Mechanisms of organic carbon burial peatlands and coal formation

It is briefly worth mentioning one more geologic carbon sink. Carbon is buried on land in peatlands and swamps, eventually to form coal measures. Peat accumulation depends sensitively on seasonal temperatures and the height of the water table, as well as on biological productivity. With a warmer, wetter future climate we might therefore expect increased rates of peat accumulation. This effect would be enhanced by higher plant productivity induced (fertilized) by rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. How important this mechanism might be is difficult to quantify, and to date there has not been a systematic attempt to estimate the large-scale future peatland response. However, we can attempt to place it into context by considering past changes.

During the late Holocene (the past few thousand years) there appears to have been a significant increase in carbon storage in peatlands, particularly in the boreal latitudes of the northern hemisphere (Gorham, 1991; Laine et al., 1996; Gajewski et al., 2001). The estimates that have been made suggest an average accumulation rate over the late Holocene of 0.096 Pg C/year (Gorham, 1991). If true, this would make peatlands a potentially important additional long-term carbon sink. However, it is far from clear how much of this expansion of peatlands is in response to the retreat of the northern hemisphere ice sheets following the end of the last glacial period and the creation of new areas suitable for wetlands to develop, and what might have been a response to Holocene warming (and an increase in CO2). Although 'mining' and drainage in the recent past have probably reversed the global rate of peatland and carbon accumulation, an important contribution from this mechanism to fossil fuel CO2 sequestra

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