The Fruits of Civilization (72-5) Peatlands

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85% of ice-free terrain on Earth can no longer be considered wild. 1/3rd of the land’s potential biological production has been appropriated by people.

Thanks to plants, the terrestrial biosphere was once a considerable sink for greenhouse gases. Then humans arose, and terrain became a source of global warming. Too little land, too much man.

Anthropogenic activities such as land use, agriculture, and waste management have altered terrestrial biogenic greenhouse gas fluxes, and the results contribute to climate change. ~ Chinese ecosystem ecologist Hanqin Tian et al

Peatlands

Peat forms when plant matter does not fully decay, due to acidic and anaerobic soil conditions. Peat is the most widespread marshland biome, comprising ~60% of the world’s wetland, which covers ~4% of the planet’s landmass.

7% of all peatlands have been exploited for forestry and cultivation. This often dries the peat out.

Peatlands can be damaged through a range of land management practices such as draining, burning, overgrazing, pollution, afforestation, extraction, establishment of windfarms and access paths. ~ ecologists Katrina Marsden & Susanna Ebmeier

Peat is flammable when dry. Peat fires smolder and are difficult to extinguish.

The most typical scenario for peat fires is when a fast flaming wildfire sweeps over a region, burning the surface vegetation and igniting the peat if it is dry enough. The peat then smolders for a much longer time. ~ Spanish fire scientist Guillermo Rein

A heat wave ignited a huge peat fire in Central Russia during the summer of 2010. The heat and smog killed 56,000.

In 2015, slash-and-burn agriculture sparked massive peat fires throughout Indonesia, sending thick smoke and haze as far as Thailand, and killing 100,000.

Peatlands hold 1/3rd of the world’s soil carbon. The stored carbon goes up in smoke when peat burns.

As the world warms and dries, and humans continue their exploitation of bog lands, peat fires will hasten hotting the planet.