A study in Nature Scientific Reports by ecologist Mike Waddington revealed the repercussions of draining and mining peatlands: widespread wildfires. Peatlands, or bogs found in the northern hemisphere, are vulnerable to fires because of unearthed organic material and other risky conditions.
The “carbon-rich” soil allows North American, Scandinavian, and Russian peatlands to catch fire easily and burn for months. Waddington and relevant researchers studied ecological and hydrological changes of the indicated peatlands over time to investigate their properties.
Not only were the peatlands in Northern Europe and Canada found to release over 200 tons of carbon per hectare after experiencing “deep burns”, but the peatlands are vulnerable to fires because of conditions such as a lack of sphagnum moss and the appearance of spruce trees.
On the peatlands, Waddington commented, “These ecosystems have been storing and removing carbon for millennia, but they have the potential to become an enormous carbon source in the future.”
The wildfires will most likely become an environmental focus because of the range at which the fires spread. Some wildfires can cover millions of hectares. The hope is that the 21 million hectares of managed peatlands covering northern forests will be protected in the future.
Peatland wildfires can be prevented through relatively simple measures. According to Waddington, “By just rewetting peatlands, the fire risk is reduced greatly. Reducing fuel loads—removing black spruce trees to get the mosses to come back—is also critical.”
Waddington’s ecological models imply a destructive cycle in which climate change warms and dries peatlands, increasing the risk of wildfires, while wildfires increase the incidence of carbon release. Awareness about the peatland findings is currently being brought about by Waddington and colleagues in Canada.