13 DEC 2022

What are permafrost peatlands?

Peatlands only cover ~3% of the Earth’s land area, with a large proportion of this located in Northern Europe and Western Siberia (shown above). These areas of the world have been perennially frozen for tens of thousands of years, where permafrost peatlands have developed, locking up almost 40 billion tonnes of CO2 (twice the amount held by Europe’s forests).

Due to the effects of global warming, the permafrost is in danger of melting, which would therefore allow the organic matter within the frozen peat to decompose, releasing the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming. This relationship between climate change and environmental effects is called ‘positive climate feedback’, where an initial change in the climate causes a secondary effect which increases the effect of the initial change.

An international study lead by the University of Leeds, published in ‘Nature Climate Change’, presented models which suggested that by 2040 the climates of Northern Europe will no longer be cold and dry enough to sustain peat permafrost.

“But that doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel. The rate and extent to which suitable climate are lost could be limited, and even partially revised, by strong climate-change mitigation policies’, said Richard Fewster, study lead author. So, there is definitely still hope for our frozen bogs who’s sustained existence is vital in protecting the health of our planet’s climate. But, it will require both lifestyle changes on an individual level and large scale international efforts, for example growing your own food or government funding of peatland restoration projects, to rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Find out more about the importance of peat bogs on our SAVE OUR PEAT page and find out how you can help.