November 4, 2010
When I think of Canada, I imagine beavers, maple syrup, hockey, and locals adding “eh?” to the end of their sentences. When McGill University's Tim Moore thinks of Canada, however, he imagines carbon cycles in the peatlands.
Moore has studied such things in the Mer Bleue (French for blue sea) peatland and conservation area for the past decade. He spoke at Duke Oct. 28 as part of the Center on Global Change seminar series.
“Peatlands are generally ignored because of their remote locations and low commercial value,” Moore said. “They also suffer from a bad reputation. When I think of the word ‘bog’, I think of being ‘bogged down’. When I think of the word ‘swamp’, I think of being ‘swamped by work’.”
But these peatlands play a key role in the planet's carbon cycle and greenhouse gas budget.
Moore's team has been measuring the carbon flow between the atmosphere and the peatlands by using eddy covariance towers that read the flux of airflow travelling through the tower between atmospheric layers.
(Learn more about eddy covariance by clicking this link, selecting “Data” in the left-hand menu, and clicking “Eddy Covariance Technique”.)
According to Moore’s research, the ground takes in an average of 20 grams of carbon per square meter every year. Data from 1998-2009 shows that net exchanges of carbon vary between 0 and 148 grams per square meter taken in by the ground every year.
Moore also measures the methane flux between the atmosphere and the ground, climate and precipitation patterns, and water table levels. In the end, it all ties back to the carbon cycle.
His team also fertilized 9-meter square plots of peatland to see what tweaking growth rates would mean for CO2 exchange on both a leaf-to-leaf level and a communal level.
The results from Moore’s tests are still being aggregated and analyzed. Of course, Moore will be continuing his research for some time, and his experiments are still young.
What he does know is that the northern peatlands play critical roles in the greenhouse gas budget, and that the peatlands themselves have a lot of scientific potential. Not bad for a swamp, eh?
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