The Looming Threat of Climate Change on Peatlands

by Ethan Fukuto

In January 2017, Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds published new findings mapping 55,000 square miles of peatlands in the Cuvette Centrale depression in the Congo Basin of Central Africa. Lewis et al.’s findings chart the Cuvette Centrale as the largest peatlands in the tropics, containing around 30 percent of the worldwide total of carbon soil in tropical peatlands. Carbon-rich peat, perhaps best known as an ingredient in whisky production, is a soil formed by decomposing organic matter. Peatlands are found primarily in northern regions such as Canada and Europe, though tropical peatlands, such as the Cuvette Centrale, pose a greater risk to global climate issues. As these regions dry due to climate change and human land-use, their susceptibility to fires increases the risk of a massive output of carbon into the atmosphere. A 2006 study on soil carbon and climate change by Eric Davidson and Ivan Janssens called for a broadening of scope in the study of temperature sensitivity to include areas such as peatlands. Continue reading