Articles | Volume 11, issue 8
Research article
25 Apr 2014
Research article |  | 25 Apr 2014

High soil solution carbon and nitrogen concentrations in a drained Atlantic bog are reduced to natural levels by 10 years of rewetting

S. Frank, B. Tiemeyer, J. Gelbrecht, and A. Freibauer

Abstract. Anthropogenic drainage of peatlands releases additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and dissolved carbon (C) and nutrients to downstream ecosystems. Rewetting drained peatlands offers a possibility to reduce nitrogen (N) and C losses. In this study, we investigate the impact of drainage and rewetting on the cycling of dissolved C and N as well as on dissolved gases, over a period of 1 year and a period of 4 months. We chose four sites within one Atlantic bog complex: a near-natural site, two drained grasslands with different mean groundwater levels and a former peat cutting area rewetted 10 years ago.

Our results clearly indicate that long-term drainage has increased the concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), ammonium, nitrate and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) compared to the near-natural site. DON and ammonium contributed the most to the total dissolved nitrogen. Nitrate concentrations below the mean groundwater table were negligible. The concentrations of DOC and N species increased with drainage depth. In the deeply-drained grassland, with a mean annual water table of 45 cm below surface, DOC concentrations were twice as high as in the partially rewetted grassland with a mean annual water table of 28 cm below surface. The deeply drained grassland had some of the highest-ever observed DOC concentrations of 195.8 ± 77.3 mg L−1 with maximum values of >400 mg L−1. In general, dissolved organic matter (DOM) at the drained sites was enriched in aromatic moieties and showed a higher degradation status (lower DOC to DON ratio) compared to the near-natural site. At the drained sites, the C to N ratios of the uppermost peat layer were the same as of DOM in the peat profile. This suggests that the uppermost degraded peat layer is the main source of DOM. Nearly constant DOM quality through the profile furthermore indicated that DOM moving downwards through the drained sites remained largely biogeochemically unchanged. Unlike DOM concentration, DOM quality and dissolved N species distribution were similar in the two grasslands and thus unaffected by the drainage depth.

Methane production during the winter months at the drained sites was limited to the subsoil, which was quasi-permanently water saturated. The recovery of the water table in the winter months led to the production of nitrous oxide around mean water table depth at the drained sites.

The rewetted and the near-natural site had comparable DOM quantity and quality (DOC to DON ratio and aromaticity). 10 years after rewetting quasi-pristine biogeochemical conditions have been re-established under continuously water logged conditions in the former peat cut area. Only the elevated dissolved methane and ammonium concentrations reflected the former disturbance by drainage and peat extraction. Rewetting via polder technique seems to be an appropriate way to revitalize peatlands on longer timescales and to improve the water quality of downstream water bodies.

Final-revised paper