Carbon balance of UK peatlands: Current state of knowledge and future research challenges

Martin Evans, M. F. Billett, D. J. Charman, J. M. Clark, C. D. Evans, M. G. Evans, N. J. Ostle, F. Worrall, A. Burden, K. J. Dinsmore, T. Jones, N. P. McNamara, L. Parry, J. G. Rowson, R. Rose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The retention of peatland carbon (C) and the ability to continue to draw down and store C from the atmosphere is not only important for the UK terrestrial carbon inventory, but also for a range of ecosystem services, the landscape value and the ecology and hydrology of ∼15% of the land area of the UK. Here we review the current state of knowledge on the C balance of UK peatlands using several studies which highlight not only the importance of making good flux measurements, but also the spatial and temporal variability of different flux terms that characterise a landscape affected by a range of natural and anthropogenic processes and threats. Our data emphasise the importance of measuring (or accurately estimating) all components of the peatland C budget. We highlight the role of the aquatic pathway and suggest that fluxes are higher than previously thought. We also compare the contemporary C balance of several UK peatlands with historical rates of C accumulation measured using peat cores, thus providing a long-term context for present-day measurements and their natural year-on-year variability. Contemporary measurements from 2 sites suggest that current accumulation rates (-56 to -72 g C m-2 yr-1) are at the lower end of those seen over the last 150 yr in peat cores (-35 to -209 g C m-2 yr-1). Finally, we highlight significant current gaps in knowledge and identify where levels of uncertainty are high, as well as emphasise the research challenges that need to be addressed if we are to improve the measurement and prediction of change in the peatland C balance over future decades. © Inter-Research 2010.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-29
Number of pages16
JournalClimate Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Aquatic
  • Carbon
  • DOC
  • Flux
  • Peat
  • Peatland


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