A delicate balance? Understanding spontaneous switches from erosion to carbon accumulation in northern peatlands.

This project is available from the academic year 2020/21 onwards.

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

Alice Milner

Department of Geography, RHUL

Alice Milner's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Peatlands are important global carbon (C) stores, containing c. 300-600 Gt C, an amount exceeding that held in the global forest biomass. Erosion is a major cause of carbon loss in some peatlands. Climate drying has been implicated as a major factor, but other suggested causes include acid deposition and overgrazing. It is often assumed that once initiated, erosion will continue until all of the original peat mass, and the carbon it holds, has been removed. However, some peatlands are undergoing spontaneous switches from erosion to renewed carbon accumulation (”self-restoration”). If the mechanisms behind this self-restoration can be understood, we will be significantly better placed to understand the role of peatlands in future climate change.

Using field measurements and experiments at sites in upland Wales and Arctic Sweden, this project will investigate the controls on carbon loss and accumulation in eroding and self-restoring peatlands.

Policy Impact of Research:

The research will provide a mechanistic understanding of peatland switches between erosion and renewed carbon accumulation. Data and insights from the research will inform models of peatland development (e.g. DigiBog), and understanding of carbon accumulation in self-restoring systems will inform peatland management policy and practice to complement rather than work against natural processes.

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