Peatlands

Their Importance and role of these ecosystems on planet Earth

Wet Tundra at Northern Yamal, Russian Arctic (2016) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshThe United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

What are peatlands?

Present in more than 180 countries, peatlands (also named bogs) are vital, super-powered ecosystems.
Though they cover only 3% of the world’s land, they store nearly 30% of its soil carbon. Bogs also house rare plants and animals that cannot survive in other environments.

Brent Geese hatching, Sterlegova, Siberian Arctic, Russia (2016) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshThe United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Peatlands are terrestrial wetlands ecosystems where the production of organic matter exceeds its decomposition, which results in peat accumulation.
They provide vital services like water supply, flood water storage, pollution control, groundwater recharge, and prevention against floods and droughts.

Wild For Life Journeys - Peatlands (2020) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshOriginal Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHn6QOVEZQU

Reinder (Rangifer Tarandus Platyrhynchus), Svalbard, Norway (2016) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshThe United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Biodiversity in peatlands

Peatlands sustain a rich and unique range of plants and animals across the world. Temperate peatlands host very different biodiversity than tropical ones, but all have a unique mix. The presence and abundance of certain species within a specific peatland can indicate the health of that habitat.

Taiga landscape near Rovaniemi, Finland (2013) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshOriginal Source: http://www.grida.no/resources/4013

Carbon storage

Due to the process of peat accumulation, peatlands are carbon rich ecosystems that store and sequester more carbon than any other type of terrestrial ecosystem.

Lakes in Great Kemeri Bog, Latvia (2017) by © GRID-Arendal/Runa S. LindebjergOriginal Source: http://www.grida.no/resources/11011

Ecological benefits

In their natural wet state, peatlands provide indispensable nature-based solutions for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.
This includes regulating water flows, minimising the risk of flooding and drought, and preventing seawater intrusion.

Arctic Foxes (Alopex Lagopus), Lena Delta, Russia (2010) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshOriginal Source: http://www.grida.no/resources/1809

Additional ecological value

Although peatlands are often seen as mostly unproductive land, they offer incredible value beyond their carbon storage ability. They provide many ecosystem services such as water purification and habitats for unique and varied animals and plants. 

Yaks hearding in central Mongolia (2018) by © Richard MortelOriginal Source: https://flic.kr/p/M5AG4n

Supporting livelihood

Peatlands also support human livelihoods around the world. In Mongolia for example, nomadic peoples have driven their herds over peatland landscapes for centuries.

Peat Stacks in Connemara, Ireland (2018) by © Bernd ThallerOriginal Source: https://flic.kr/p/TC73Jj

Different uses of peat extracted from bogs

- In horticulture, as a soil improver
- Domestic heating, as an alternative to firewood
- Household cooking
- Production of small amounts of electricity.
- Water filtration
- Wastewater treatment 

Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) , Mykland, Aust Agder, Norway (2013) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshOriginal Source: http://www.grida.no/resources/4556

Atmosperic pollution

Peatlands are very sensitive to air pollution, particularly high loads of reactive nitrogen in rain (acid rain).
Nitrogen compounds come from the excessive use of fertilizers in agriculture, and energy from fossil fuels.

Round-leaved sundew, United Kingdom (2009) by © Natural England/Peter Roworth 2009Original Source: https://flic.kr/p/2jKGzn8

Peatlands and climate change

High nitrogen deposition threatens the long-term carbon storage capacity of peatlands and releases stored CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
This also changes the functioning and biodiversity of peatlands.

Little Stint (Calidris Minuta), Lena Delta, Russia (2010) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshOriginal Source: http://www.grida.no/resources/1783

Worldwide, urgent action is needed to protect, sustainably manage, and restore peatlands!

Mosses as part of the vegetation, Mykland, Aust Agder, Norway (2013) by © GRID-Arendal/Peter ProkoshOriginal Source: http://www.grida.no/resources/4570

Credits: Story

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Europe Office

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps