Burning peat bogs may be a good way to capture carbon from the atmosphere

December 6th, 2008 - 2:10 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 6 (ANI): A new research has suggested that burning peat bogs in a controlled way may be a good way to capture carbon from the atmosphere.

Peatlands are dense carbon storage units. As the woody plants growing on top of the peat die, they fall into oxygen-poor, water-logged soil that keeps their carbon-rich remains preserved indefinitely.

Around the world, peat contains 30 percent of all carbon buried in soils, equivalent to slightly less than all of the carbon in the atmosphere today.

Peatlands suck up between 1 and 2 percent of all anthropogenic carbon emissions in the U.K. annually, Fred Worrall of Durham University in the United Kingdom said.

In the United Kingdom, private land managers burn peatlands regularly to clear space for grouse habitat and sheep grazing.

The burning may have the beneficial side effect of enhancing carbon sequestration in the bogs, according to Worrall and Gareth Clay, also of Durham University.

When the vegetation growing on top of peat bogs burns, some of it turns into black carbon charcoal. The charcoal can sink into the murky depths where it is preserved.

According to a report in Discovery News, in a computer simulation, the researchers found that if controlled burns were applied to optimize this process, the bogs could absorb 20 to 30 percent more carbon than when they were left to grow naturally.

The key is that only the top heather vegetation can be burned - what we call a cool burn. Once you start burning down into the litter and soil, all bets are off. Its definitely a carbon source, Worrall said.

Theres also a risk that a burn could get out of control and turn into a wildfire, devastating the peat.

This is kind of an up and coming idea, said Andrew Zimmermann of the University of Florida. Making what is called biochar to enhance carbon sequestration has potential to be used all over the world, he added.

Zimmermann pointed to forests as having even more potential to store carbon by making charcoal, because as trees die, their carbon-rich wood and leaf litter are broken down by microorganisms and released back into the atmosphere.

Peat is already preserving plenty of carbon. What we need is to preserve what is not already being preserved, he said.

If you do nothing, peatlands are sure to become part of our greenhouse gas emissions, Worrall said. But, if we do something and its the right thing, we can turn this system around and make it part of the solution, he added. (ANI)

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