Peatlands in Europe has formed a significant sink for atmospheric CO2 since the last glacial maximum. Currently they are estimated to hold ca. 42 Gt carbon in the form of peat and are therefore a considerable component in the European carbon budget. Due to the generally wet soil conditions in peatlands they are also significant emitters of the strong greenhouse gas (GHG) methane (CH4) and in some cases also of nitrous oxide (N2O). The EU funded CarboEurope-GHG Concerted Action attempts to develop a reliable and complete greenhouse gas budget for Europe and this report aims to provide a review and synthesis of the available information about GHG exchanges in European peatlands and their underlying processes. A best estimate for all the European countries shows that some are currently sinks for atmospheric CO2 while others are sources. In contrast, for CH4 and N2O, only the sources are relevant. Whilst some countries are CO2 sinks, all countries are net GHG emitters from peatlands. The results presented, however, carry large uncertainties, which cannot be adequately quantified yet. One outstanding uncertainty is the distribution of land use types, particular in Russia, the largest European peat nation. The synthesis of GHG exchange, nevertheless, indicates some interesting features. Russia hosts an estimated 41% of European peatlands and contributes most to all GHG exchanges (CO2: 25%, CH4: 52%, N2O: 26%, Total: 37%). Germany is the second-largest emitter (12% of European total) although it contains only 3.2% of European peatlands. The reason is the use of most of the peatland area for intensive cropland and grassland. The largest CO2 emitters are countries with large agricultural peatland areas (Russia, Germany, Belarus, Poland), the largest N2O emitters are those with large agricultural fen areas (Russia, Germany, Finland). In contrast, the largest CH4 emitters are concentrated in regions with large areas of intact mires, namely Russia and Scandinavia. High average emission densities above 3.5 t C-equiv. ha-1 are found in the Southeast Mediterranean, Germany and the Netherlands where agricultural use of peatlands is intense. Low average emission densities below 0.3 t C-equiv. ha-1 occur where mires and peatland forests dominate, e.g. Finland and the UK. This report concludes by pointing at key gaps in our knowledge about peatland carbon stocks and GHG exchanges which include insufficient basic information on areal distribution of peatlands, measurements of peat depth and also a lack of flux datasets providing full annual budgets of GHG exchanges.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

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University of Lund

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