Europe’s peatlands are drying out en masse, and that’s a big problem

22 Oct 2019

Image: © peterstuart/

Once a vital part of local economies in Ireland, peatlands are now drying out across Europe, reducing their ability to absorb CO2.

Findings published to Nature Geoscience by researchers in the UK have shown that peatlands which were once considered one of Europe’s greatest carbon sinks could be about to do the complete opposite as a result of the climate crisis.

According to the BBC, peatlands hold almost five times more CO2 than forests. However, this recent study found that 31 peatlands across Ireland, England, Scandinavia and continental Europe are experiencing substantial change.

It said that 40pc were found to be drier than they have been in the past 1,000 years, while 24pc were drier than they have been in the past 2,000 years.

It’s estimated that Britain and Ireland alone hold 20pc of the world’s blanket bog. But globally, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that as much as 15pc of the world’s peatlands – covering 0.4pc of the planet’s surface – have been drained.

‘Not good news for our planet’

This is a worrying development, according to Dr Maarten Blaauw of Queen’s University Belfast, who said that this continental drying is changing the ability of peatlands to absorb CO2, turning them into carbon sources rather than sinks. “This is not good news for our planet,” he added.

Dr Graeme Swindles of the University of Leeds, who was lead author of the study, warned that action needs to be taken to safeguard peatlands from further destruction.

“The combined pressure of climate change and human impacts may push these vitally important carbon storing ecosystems into becoming a global source of carbon emissions,” he said.

The protection of the world’s peatlands was among the eight steps put forward by climate and agricultural scientists last year ahead of the COP24 climate talks, which were held in the Polish city of Katowice. The scientists argued that regulations should be enforced to prevent their burning and drainage for fuel.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic