Taking the pulse of peatland carbon emissions could measure climate impact of development

phys.org | 11/19/2018 | Staff
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A new way to take the pulse of carbon emissions could help track how the industrial development of peatlands contributes to climate change, as well as measure their recovery once development ends.

In a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers led by the University of Glasgow discuss how they have used carbon-14 dating to determine for the first time the age of carbon dioxide being released from peatland sites.

Researchers - Carbon - Emissions - Peatlands - Malaysia

The researchers monitored carbon emissions from peatlands in Malaysia's North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest (in Selangor State, close to Kuala Lumpur) and an established oil palm plantation in south Selangor over a five-day period during the country's dry season.

Peatlands, which are composed of partially decayed plant and other organic matter accumulated over thousands of years, are 'carbon sinks' which capture and hold decaying plant material.

Peatlands - Malaysia - Oil - Production - Carbon

When peatlands are disturbed, as they are in Malaysia by logging and palm oil production, the carbon they store can be released into rivers. While the process by which peatlands release carbon into rivers is well-understood, the research team were keen to see if these rivers then release old peatland carbon to the atmosphere as gas. Evidence of older carbon release could signal that old carbon is being released into the atmosphere, and as no longer stored would contribute to climate change.

To do so, they collected samples of carbon dioxide being released from the water draining from the peatland and brought them back for analysis at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) in East Kilbride.

SUERC - Team - Levels - Isotope - Carbon

The SUERC team measured the levels of a radio- isotope of carbon called carbon-14 in each sample. The level of radioactive decay in those samples allows scientists to accurately determine the age of each sample.

Professor Susan Waldron, of the University of Glasgow's School of Geographical and Earth Sciences,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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