Peatlands play a crucial role in the environmental balance. With a cover of 3 percent of the earth’s surface, these mini ecosystems are vital for climatic and ecological balance in the world today. Due to the nature of dependency between climate and these regions, change in one is likely to have adverse changes reflecting on the other. Carbon balance in the atmosphere, as well as rainfall patterns, indicate the significant characteristics of the environment and climate that will be most affected by a chain of events originating from a future climate change. Since they act as the most significant carbon stores, bogs require protection and conservation with a view of maintaining this delicate environmental balance.
Not all relevant bodies, communities and individuals understand the importance of these zones has led to severe overexploitation, suffering considerable damage as a result of activities like drainage, mining for fuel, burning and agricultural conversion. Human activity has overseen the destruction of 15 percent of all bogs in the world. This activity has directly resulted in the release of vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is vital to understand the role of peatlands in the global fight to combat climate change, and with this knowledge, the adoption of a keener approach is necessary.
It is a chain of events, beginning with the destruction or draining of bogs, which lead to larger volumes of carbon emissions and erratic weather patterns, which in return lead to less and less surface cover by peatlands, and the cycle begins all over again. The progression of this cycle over time directly results into less and less areas that can qualify as peatlands, with a loss of balance in the climate.
Peatlands provide an impressive range of ecosystem services such as;
- Peatlands are a vital mechanism in the prevention of seawater intrusion, acting as a vital proactive mechanism that prevents flooding.
- Bogs are a source of food
- They are a vital part of local economies in surrounding areas
- They help preserve essential records such as pollen and human artifacts. Human bodies have also been excellently preserved in bogs, giving modern technology the rare opportunity to obtain insight on past human lifestyles (bog bodies)
- They also help in filtering drinking water, dissolved compounds, however, result in polluted water. Bogs hold an impressive 10 percent of the global freshwater resources.
- These mires assist in the conservation of certain wildlife species. For instance, the Bornean Orangutan population has dropped by a worrying 60 percent over six decades, and this has been verified to have been as a result of the loss of these important swamp habitats. This significant loss has led to the classification of the species as critically endangered.
- Mires are important carbon store, holding a third of the world’s soil carbon. It is on drainage or destruction that this carbon is released into the atmosphere, bringing about an unsuitable balance.
Predicted temperature changes in coming years over select regions are inevitably going to affect mires. This forecast will directly result in the melting of peat that is perennially frozen. This thawing will, in turn, result in waterlogged conditions. Areas with non-permafrost peatlands will experience more frequent wildfires as drying of the regions takes full effect. The frequency of occurrence of fire will tend to remain higher, ranging from 400 to 1700 years in areas that higher moisture content, as compared to 50 to 100 years in relatively drier regions.
A closer look at the effect of climate change on peatlands reveals the following;
- Projected increases in air temperatures will, in turn, reflect an increase in ground temperatures(the temperature increases are so acute that they can even be measured with a home weather station). This change will cause a rise in evapotranspiration which results in the drying of bogs and the subsequent destabilization of peatland ecosystems.
- Widespread thawing due to slight increases in temperature will meet perennially frozen peatlands, and result in waterlogging. These frozen mires tend to be very sensitive to temperature variations, with their healthy existence relying on zero or subzero temperatures.
- Continually erratic patterns are more and more likely to become the norm. This projection means that high latitudes will receive increased rainfall while mid-latitudes are getting reduced precipitation. This change in rainfall patterns increases the risk of drought in all areas, with erratic agricultural productivity.
- The forecast increase in temperatures will also likely increase the primary productivity of peatlands due to the lengthening of growing seasons. This expected rise will be accompanied by an increase in the peat decay rates, which will, in turn, lead to the release of larger volumes of methane and carbon dioxide.
- An increase in rainfall will result in the erosion of peatlands. This increase will consequently amplify by activities like overgrazing and drainage by human activity in a bid to find balance in the environment.
- Chances of greater droughts will potentially increase the chances of fire, with drier regions proving to be more susceptible to such. It remains the fact that the primary cause of the fire is human activity. It is in drier settings that the effects of such fires are worst felt due to ease of which they spread.
- There is also a real possibility of tree lines shifting towards the poles due to an increase in summer temperatures. Hydrological changes are also likely to result in increased forest cover on open peatlands.
Sustainable Development Goals have been put in place to protect peatlands and have them at optimum productivity. These include;
- Assessment of the distribution of state peatlands
- The measurement and reporting of peatland emissions
- Protection and restoration of peatlands with an excellent financial support framework
- Increased engagement of local communities in conservation activities
- Sharing of the available knowledge, experience, and expertise regarding the conservation, restoration, and improvement of peatlands
- The inclusion of bogs along with forests the relevant agreements that address climate change, biodiversity, and geodiversity.
- A stay on peat exploitation just until proper legislation is enacted to protect mires as well as managing such activity.
Peatlands help establish an essential balance in the global environment, and projected climate change would affect said balance with the inevitable effects such changes will have on existing mires. It is therefore imperative that proper care is taken to maintain and protect these critical regions.