, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 229-245

Uncertainty in Predicting the Effect of Climatic Change on the Carbon Cycling of Canadian Peatlands

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Abstract

Northern peatlands play an important role globally in the cycling of C, through the exchange of CO2 with the atmosphere, the emission of CH4, the production and export of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and the storage of C. Under 2 × CO2 GCM scenarios, most Canadian peatlands will be exposed to increases in mean annual temperature ranging between 2 and 6° C and increases in mean annual precipitation of 0 to 15 %, with the most pronounced changes occurring during the winter. The increase in CO2 uptake by plants, through warmer temperatures and elevated atmospheric CO2, is likely to be offset by increased soil respiration rates in response to warmer soils and lowered water tables. CH4 emissions are likely to decrease in most peatlands because of lowered water tables, except where the peat surface adjusts to fluctuating water tables, and in permafrost, where the collapse of dry plateau and palsa will lead to increase CH4 emission. There likely will be little change in DOC production, but DOC export to water bodies will decrease as runoff decreases. The storage of C in peatlands is sensitive to all C cycle components and is difficult to predict. The challenge is to develop quantitative models capable of making these predictions for different peatlands. We present some qualitative responses, with levels of uncertainty. There will be, however, as much variation in response to climatic change within a peatland as there will be among peatland regions.