, Volume 76, Issue 3-4, pp 339-359
Date: 10 Jun 2006

Trends in Drought Frequency – the Fate of DOC Export From British Peatlands

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Abstract

There is increasing evidence that drought is leading to increased loss of dissolved organic carbon from upland peats. Therefore, this study endeavours to understand the severity and frequency of the scale of drought responsible for driving the observed changes; and, by reconstructing climatic records, to understand whether such droughts are increasing in severity and frequency. The study suggests that there are two levels of drought severity important in the peatlands: a hydrological drought that causes hydrophobic effects in the upper peat profile lasting 3–4 years in duration, and a more severe biogeochemical drought that triggers new mechanisms of DOC production and decade-long effects. The study uses long term climate data from Central England and Northern England to reconstructs depth to water table for an upland peat catchment back to 1766 and shows that hydrological drought has a return period of 25 years and that biogeochemical drought has a return period of 15.5 years. Statistical modelling of the time series of annual droughts shows only weak evidence for an increasing frequency of severe droughts since 1766, but stronger evidence for the recent past. The return period of drought of sufficient severity to cause biogeochemical response is coming close to the length of effect such a drought would have, i.e. trends in drought frequency mean that peatlands may no longer be resilient to the impact of drought, with dire consequences for the storage of carbon in these environments.