Modeling northern peatland decomposition and peat accumulation


To test the hypothesis that long-term peat accumulation is related to contemporary carbon flux dynamics, we present the Peat Decomposition Model (PDM), a new model of long-term peat accumulation. Decomposition rates of the deeper peat are directly related to observable decomposition rates of fresh vegetation litter. Plant root effects (subsurface oxygenation and fresh litter inputs) are included. PDM considers two vegetation types, vascular and nonvascular, with different decomposition rates and aboveground and belowground litter input rates. We used PDM to investigate the sensitivities of peat accumulation in bogs and fens to productivity, root:shoot ratio, tissue decomposability, root and water table depths, and climate. Warmer and wetter conditions are more conducive to peat accumulation. Bogs are more sensitive than fens to climate conditions. Cooler and drier conditions lead to the lowest peat accumulation when productivity is more temperature sensitive than decomposition rates. We also compare peat age–depth profiles to field data. With a very general parameterization, PDM fen and bog age–depth profiles were similar to data from the the most recent 5000 years at three bog cores and a fen core in eastern Canada, but they overestimated accumulation at three other bog cores in that region. The model cannot reliably predict the amount of fen peat remaining from the first few millennia of a peatland's development. This discrepancy may relate to nonanalogue, early postglacial climatic and nutrient conditions for rich-fen peat accumulation and to the fate of this fen peat material, which is overlain by a bog as the peatland evolves, a common hydroseral succession in northern peatlands. Because PDM sensitivity tests point to these possible factors, we conclude that the static model represents a framework that shows a consistent relationship between contemporary productivity and fresh-tissue decomposition rates and observed long-term peat accumulation.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

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