The world’s largest peatland helps solve global climate problems

Russian, German, and French scientists have prepared an article on the wetland landscapes of the Earth. The joint work shows how great the role of peat bogs is in absorbing carbon (one of the main components of greenhouse gases) and cooling the planet. While peat bogs have been lost in a significant part of Europe, Siberia’s Vasyugan Swamp is the main “refrigerator” of the planet. It helps reduce the effects of global warming, reduces flood risks, and stores and purifies fresh water. According to scientists, the ecosystem services that peatlands provide to humanity must be monetized. The publication will be published in a special issue of the journal Ambio (Q1) by the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In the spring of 2020, TSU scientists took the initiative to include wetlands in the calculation mechanisms for the Paris Climate Agreement (formerly the Kyoto Protocol). Accounting for peatlands in the allocation of quotas will bring major bonuses to Russia.

– When our German colleagues learned about our initiative to include peat bogs in the calculation mechanisms for the Paris climate agreement, they fully supported us, – says Sergey Kirpotin, one of the authors of the article, director of the TSU Center for Excellence Bio-Clim-Land. – Europeans, like no one else, understand how important peatlands are. In some EU countries, they are almost gone, so the interest of German scientists in Russia and the Tomsk Region is simply huge. After all, it is here that the Vasyugan Swamp is located – the largest peat bog in the world, which helps to solve the climatic problems of the whole world.

According to the authors of the article, for many centuries peat bogs did not have recognition, they were traditionally regarded as worthless inconveniences and even fatal places. Therefore, the bogs were actively drained to convert them into agricultural and forest lands, supposedly beneficial for humans. Some countries almost completely lost their swamps: for example, in Germany their area decreased by 98%, in Denmark by 93%, in the Netherlands 95% of peatlands were lost, and in Ireland 82%. Dried peatlands are converted from carbon dioxide sinks to a source of CO2, especially when a large amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere by fires.

– The fact that Europe drained “only” half of its area of peatlands is explained by the huge number of peatlands in Russia, and not by the restrictive use in this and other countries,- notes Sergey Kirpotin. – The Soviet Union was even the world champion in draining peatlands, which was associated with a clearly negative attitude to these ecosystems. By the end of the 20th century, about 69,000 km² of peatlands in the former USSR were drained and degraded as a result of human activity. These processes especially affected the European part, while the vast peatlands in Siberia remained untouched. And now they provide ecosystem services to the whole world.

The authors emphasize that swamps are not only the main cooling element for the Earth. They store and purify fresh water from heavy metals and other pollutants, and reduce the risk of floods. Along with this, peatlands, in particular, the Vasyugan Swamp, are the habitat of the rarest species that are on the verge of extinction. The rarest of them is the thin-billed curlew, found only in this place and now the symbol (logo) of the Vasyugan Swamp.

– The role of swamps in maintaining climate balance is underestimated. Peatlands of the world make up only three percent of the earth’s surface, but at the same time, they contain 500 gigatons of carbon, which is double the carbon reserves of the entire forest biomass of the planet. This makes peatlands the main long-term storage of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere. – explains the director of the TSU Center for Excellence Bio- Сlim-Land. Therefore, we, with our German colleagues, advocate bringing the swamps to the Paris Agreement and thus monetizing the ecosystem services critically important for humanity that the swamps render to humanity.