Northern peatlands cover ~3–4 million km2 (~10% of the land north of 45°N) and contain ~200–400 Pg carbon (~10–20% of total global soil carbon), almost entirely as peat (organic soil). Recent developments in global climate models have included incorporation of the terrestrial carbon cycle and representation of several terrestrial ecosystem types and processes in their land surface modules. Peatlands share many general properties with upland, mineral-soil ecosystems, and general ecosystem carbon, water, and energy cycle functions (productivity, decomposition, water infiltration, evapotranspiration, runoff, latent, sensible, and ground heat fluxes). However, northern peatlands also have several unique characteristics that will require some rethinking or revising of land surface algorithms in global climate models. Here we review some of these characteristics, deep organic soils, a significant fraction of bryophyte vegetation, shallow water tables, spatial heterogeneity, anaerobic biogeochemistry, and disturbance regimes, in the context of incorporating them into global climate models. With the incorporation of peatlands, global climate models will be able to simulate the fate of northern peatland carbon under climate change, and estimate the magnitude and strength of any climate system feedbacks associated with the dynamics of this large carbon pool.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

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Copyright 2009 by the American Geophysical Union