Amazonian peatlands could shift from a carbon sink to a carbon source under a changing climate

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

Amazonian peatlands store a large amount of soil organic carbon (SOC). These natural carbon “sinks” keep carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere, and, when left undisturbed, peatlands store more carbon dioxide than all other vegetation types on Earth combined.  But when they are drained and deforested, they can release large amounts of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). Climate researchers are also concerned that a changing climate, higher temperatures in particular, may be accelerating SOC losses from intact peatlands.

Graduate student Sirui Wang (Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences) led a study looking at the impact of climate change on the Pastaza-Marañon foreland basin in Peru, which is the most extensive peatlands complex in the entire Amazon Basin. The research team, including Wang’s advisor, professor Qianlai Zhuang and collaborators from Arizona State University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Florida International University, found that warming accelerates peat SOC loss while increasing precipitation accelerates peat SOC accumulation. With these impacts, their simulations suggest that the basin might lose up to 0.4 Pg of carbon by the year 2100, with the largest loss from palm swamps. If this loss rate is true for all Amazonian peatlands, the researchers project that these carbon-dense peatlands may switch from a current carbon sink into a future source in this century.

Wang, S., Q. Zhuang, O. Lähteenoja, F. C. Draper and H. Cadillo-Quiroz (2018). Potential shift from a carbon sink to a source in Amazonian peatlands under a changing climate. PNAS, 115 (49) 12407-12412.

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