Fast facts: Peatlands

A quick rundown on our planet’s ecosystems

A bioenergy project in Sumatra, Indonesia. Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
15 September 2019
Sandra Cordon
Thermokarst, Russia
Thermokarst in Pokhodsk, Russia. Hans Joosten

Peatlands are a type of wetland with a naturally-accumulated layer of peat – organic matter that has not fully decomposed – on the surface. They are found in at least 169 countries and on all continents, ranging from the Arctic to the tropics.

Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
The Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Colin Campbell, Flickr

Peatlands cover only about 3 percent of the world’s land area, but they store almost one-third of soil carbon, making them the largest soil carbon store. Globally, peatlands store twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forests.

Peatlands, Sumatra, Indonesia
Padang Sugihan wildlife reserve area, Sumatra, Indonesia. Faizal Abdul Aziz/CIFOR

Peatlands preserve global biodiversity, provide clean water, and minimize flood risk. They also fight climate change by storing immense amounts of carbon from their steady accumulation of organic matter over millennia.

Permafrost, Russia
Permafrost peatlands with lake depressions in Cape Bolvansky, Russia. Hans Joosten

The average peatland has a carbon pool five times greater than that of a tropical forest. As a result, peatlands that are drained and degraded can release large amounts of carbon and thus exacerbate climate change. In fact, degraded peatlands contribute around 5 percent of global anthropogenic carbon emissions – making it all the more important to protect and restore them.

Read the rest of our ‘fast facts’ series on ecosystems below.

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