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Peat swamps are carbon hotspots that need urgent protection

New research shows that more carbon is stored in decomposing peat swamps in the Lowland Peruvian Amazon (LPA) than previously thought and these swamps need protection. The scientists who carried out the research found small but increasing areas of deforestation across the region. Deforestation has lead to an eleven fold uptick in carbon emissions driven by mining from 2000 to 2016. 

The international team of scientists used satellite imagery and field data to map and model peat thickness in Peru’s lowland Amazon swamps. The study was led by Dr. Adam Hastie, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh.

“We knew that Peru contained substantial peatlands but we previously only had ground data from a few regions, and we didn’t realize how extensive the peatlands were,” said Dr. Hastie.

“Our high-resolution maps can be used to directly inform conservation and climate mitigation policies and actions such as Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement, to avoid further degradation and CO2 emissions.”

With the new data, the research shows that the peatlands contain double the amount of carbon previously estimated. This means that the peatlands contain 5.4 billion tons of carbon in a mere 5 percent of the landmass of Peru. 

Tropical peatlands have one of the greatest concentrations of carbon contained in any landscape. Unfortunately, agriculture and other forms of development are destroying the massive amounts of stunning biodiversity as well as releasing the carbon contained therein.

“Peatlands are increasingly recognized as carbon hotspots and a key component of the planet’s carbon cycle,” said  Dr. Ian Lawson from the University of St. Andrews.

“They store half of all the soil carbon on the planet, but they’re vulnerable to human pressures. It’s important for all of us that we know where they are so that we can protect them and help to mitigate climate change.”

Next, the researchers plan to look at the carbon storage of other parts of the Amazon in an effort to better understand the problem and hopefully determine how to fix it.

The research is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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