This Forgotten Ecosystem Holds Twice as Much Carbon as Forests

by Moin Uddin Ahmed Tipu

As more of the world’s forests are destroyed, it makes you wonder: what’s going to absorb CO2 in their place?! In an ironic twist of fate, one of Earth’s “deadest” habitats might be our best hope for an ongoing supply of breathable air.
» Subscribe to Seeker!
» Watch more Elements!
» Visit our shop at

Called peatlands, these wetland environments are named for their tendency to accumulate decayed plant matter. Unlike most other ecosystems, like forests, where branches and leaves typically decompose in a matter of months… in peatlands, that plant material can stay intact for millenia. You see, peatlands mostly exist in high altitude places where temps are low and there’s not much water flow. This results in their having extremely low oxygen and high acidity levels. These harsh conditions aren’t very hospitable to microbes and fungi, which are instrumental to the whole decomposition process. So without them around, the plant material sort of… just sits. Over time, that it globs together to form peat, a thick, spongy material that can soak up 20x its weight in water.

Peat also soaks up loads of carbon. Through a process known as the Calvin cycle, living plants absorb CO2 from the air and convert it into organic molecules that they can then use as energy to grow. Through decomposition, the carbon that’s “fixed” in a plant’s structure gets released but since peat doesn’t decompose, that carbon can stay put! It’s estimated that peatlands contain 550 gigatonnes of organic carbon, which is twice as much organic carbon as all the world’s forests combined. That’s absolutely wild, considering that forests cover about 30% of the world’s land area… and peatlands only account for 3%!

Like most of the world’s habitats, peatlands aren’t immune to the threats of human development and exploitation. Peat is also are a very in-demand resource. Its incredible water holding capacity makes it a favorite amongst horticulturists; If you’ve ever picked up a bag of soil amendment, chances are it’s full of the stuff. Since peat is also a fossil fuel with a long burn, it’s used in some parts of the world. Peatlands are also often drained to accommodate other land use activities, like agriculture.

#elements #science #CO2 #carbon #climatechange #environment

Read More:

The Mad Dash to Figure Out the Fate of Peatlands

“Second only to the oceans in the amount of atmospheric carbon they store, peat bogs are integral to the Earth’s carbon cycle. Most peat started forming after the last ice age, roughly 12,000 years ago, and for millennia, they’ve been important carbon reservoirs.”

Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets

“Tollund Man is the best-looking and best-known member of an elite club of preserved cadavers that have come to be known as “bog bodies.” These are men and women (also some adolescents and a few children) who were laid down long ago in the raised peat bogs of Northern Europe—mostly Denmark, Germany, England, Ireland and the Netherlands.”

Hot New Environmental Threat: Zombie Fires That Come Back to Life

“Packed deep within carbon-rich soils and insulated by feet of snow, zombie fires can smolder for months, long after firefighters have extinguished the surface flames. As the snow melts and the soil begins to dry out, flames can reignite on the surface and spark larger blazes. This poses a problem not only for people and property, but for the climate, too.”

____________________

Elements is more than just a science show. It’s your science-loving best friend, tasked with keeping you updated and interested on all the compelling, innovative and groundbreaking science happening all around us. Join our passionate hosts as they help break down and present fascinating science, from quarks to quantum theory and beyond.

Seeker empowers the curious to understand the science shaping our world. We tell award-winning stories about the natural forces and groundbreaking innovations that impact our lives, our planet, and our universe.

Visit the Seeker website

Elements on Facebook

Subscribe now!

Seeker on Twitter

Seeker on Facebook

Seeker

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

32 comments

Jamie Arnott January 4, 2022 - 1:12 PM

Thanks for keeping me informed. These place were on fire in 2010s UK because of record temperatures, which is happening all over this latitude. Away with climate doom though, Siberian and Canadian tundra is on my position. That looks like a bad feedback loop waiting to happen doesn't it? ;-)

axisapex January 4, 2022 - 3:45 PM

Fistly you did not put Peatlands in the title, and secondly you did not tell us what countries have most of the peatlands.

Sully-Kun January 4, 2022 - 4:52 PM

1:13 this is nightmarish to learn in middle school

Romulous75 January 4, 2022 - 5:57 PM

There was a lot of carbon in the atmosphere in millennia past. Almost all of it has already been pulled out of the air into many resources.

Viktus sk January 4, 2022 - 7:00 PM

Give me the background music

Dan S January 4, 2022 - 7:19 PM

How can you talk about peat and not mention whisky?

Imad Oofus January 4, 2022 - 8:21 PM

The oceans are more important than the forests for co2 capture

Drumkommandr January 5, 2022 - 12:23 AM

Easy way
*STOP BURNING CRAP FOR ELECTRICITY*
that is all

SOURAJ January 5, 2022 - 12:31 AM

Let's burn peat then..it would be fun..

Imad Oofus January 5, 2022 - 1:38 AM

What’s with all the tree huggers?
Where’s the ocean huggers?

Veritas B. January 5, 2022 - 2:11 AM

yeah, maybe zoom in closer into the spider while I am eating…

watch50er January 5, 2022 - 3:35 AM

Fascinating. I never knew that about peat lands. So strange they act like a sort of renewable surface coal …. Albeit only about 1 millimeter a year. Great to hear about the un sing hero ecosystems at play and that there are such options as well.

Also bioreactors that feed industrial co2 into algae tanks are flipping amazing and I’d love to see them everywhere.

Also seaweed farms 👍

Gotta Go January 5, 2022 - 6:59 AM

Ive always heard there are more trees now than ever. We prevent natural fires from spreading. At the same time i understand forests are cleared every day. Whats the truth?

Avicenna M January 5, 2022 - 7:09 AM

Live in Caithness which is in Scotland I can say there is alot of land that is protected for peat lands

Larry Dunn January 5, 2022 - 8:25 AM

Blue green algae is how we get 90 percent of the oxygen we breathe. Trees are completely unnecessary for the oxygenation of the atmosphere.

Onel Ganteng January 5, 2022 - 9:50 AM

Owww nice

Abc Def January 5, 2022 - 3:09 PM

We need to yggsrasil tree to capture carbon.

AK1MOON moon January 5, 2022 - 7:47 PM

You should all read apocalypse never because alot of this is just straight wrong or a lie.

chen cohen January 5, 2022 - 8:35 PM

Oh wow, can we create more peatlands? Try to make it more than 3%, maybe 4? That should have a tremendous effect if possible.

Harver January 6, 2022 - 12:04 AM

the weed stock footage lol

mycosic January 6, 2022 - 7:27 AM

Nice little Mary Jane seedling @ 02:00 🌱 🔥

Raj Shekhar January 6, 2022 - 8:07 AM

I wish I will be there to see end of the human race

Rn Kn January 6, 2022 - 10:18 AM

Just stop development already. The only thing we have to do is nothing. Do nothing, to have everything.

Marans Candy January 6, 2022 - 11:41 PM

Algae and plankton in the oceans produce more oxygen than trees.

erick chandra January 6, 2022 - 11:49 PM

Peatland is the most fragile ecosystem that threatened by deforestation in my country.
People never know how much useful it to protect our environment, on the other hand people just see it as a wasteland 😓

Eliza Sass January 7, 2022 - 12:42 AM

Wtf had this channel turned into

John Shipp January 7, 2022 - 2:37 AM

Hey the seedling shown at 2.02 is my favourite plant…. Mmmm Mary J

Ersin Avseren January 7, 2022 - 4:04 AM

04:06 Turkey

Tristan Coleman January 7, 2022 - 6:51 AM

i should invest in Peat basically

Frank J Steinman January 7, 2022 - 11:10 PM

Love the marijuana plant…

87vortex87 January 8, 2022 - 4:24 AM

Yea, except when it gets dry it'll emit tonnes of CO2.

Applasamy Subbha Rao January 8, 2022 - 5:22 AM

Tropical peat lands emit more GHG than compared to drain and cultivated . These Ecosystems as mentioned in this video Not Applicable on Tropical.