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Peat bogs will not cause runaway global warming

Trials debunk positive feedback fears

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OK, so the world has warmed up a bit since 1950. This is terrible, because it means that the huge amounts of carbon stored in peat bogs will now start to be emitted into the atmosphere, which will cause more warming, which will release more peaty carbon and so on until all the Earth is a baking lifeless hell.

It must be true - it says so in New Scientist ("Peat bogs harbour carbon time bomb ... the process appears to be feeding off itself ... It's a vicious circle ... we have disturbed something critical that controls the stability of the carbon cycle in our planet"). Aaiee!

Steady on. Boffins working in Canada and Germany have looked into this properly, and they say it's a load of cobblers. Studying the decomposition of bog peat in the lab over two years, they have found that increases in temperature have no effect on peat's ability to sequester (that is, keep out of the atmosphere) its huge stores of carbon.

The American Chemical Society, announcing the publication of the research, tells us:

Scientists have been concerned that global warming might dry out the surface of peatlands, allowing the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and methane (a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide) produced from decaying organic matter. To see whether this catastrophic domino effect is a realistic possibility, the scientists conducted laboratory simulations studying the decomposition of wet bog peat for nearly two years.

Far from observing sudden releases of greenhouse gases, they found that carbon release and methane production slowed down considerably ... the study concluded that “even under moderately changing climatic conditions,” peatlands will continue to sequester, or isolate from the atmosphere, their huge deposits of carbon and methane.

So the global temperature can rise a bit, and this will not in fact cause any sort of runaway nightmare effect related to peat. Panic over.

The academic paper, Experimental Burial Inhibits Methanogenesis and Anaerobic Decomposition in Water-Saturated Peats, is published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. ®

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