Nordic Peat Network



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Information on Peatland Drainage and Environment

In the Nordic countries, peatlands have been formed due to our cold climate with excessive rainfall. Peat soils cover more than 420 million ha world wide occupying an area of 66 680 km2 in Sweden, 94 000 km2 in Finland and 23 700 km2 in Norway. Nordic countries possess about 30 % of the worldwide peat resource. These land areas are important for cultivation. In particular, in the Artic region they form the main cultivated land area.

Peat soils are different from mineral soils. Peat is highly compressible which effect many soil properties. As organic matter it is continuously loses CO2 after drainage. This results in soil shrinkage and subsidence. Peat is partly characterized with its own parameters such as the degree of decomposition after the Swedish scientist von Post. To a large extent many peatland physical and chemical properties are not well known, such as important properties needed in modelling of hydrology, nutrient leaching or climate gas release. The peat properties depend on the decomposition and the parent plant material. As peat soils are abundant in Northern conditions it is crucial that Nordic researchers co-operate and develop knowledge on these soils and how they should be managed.

Drainage of peatlands has many negative direct environmental effects including erosion, nutrient leaching, and climate gas emissions. Some of these harmful effects could be reduced by water level control and other drainage options. In a natural state, peatlands have many important ecological and hydrological functions that are not well understood. Peatlands function as water storage, breeding grounds and water quality controls. Part of these functions can be restored after cultivation by re-wetting before the peat is completely lost due to subsidence. Peatlands are important contributors in the global cycling of atmospheric gases. Peatlands contain 20-30% of the world's soil organic carbon. They process and transfer significant quantities of greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4 and N2O. The delicate balance between peatland drainage and use, nature, landscape and environment requires improved better multidisciplinary knowledge to support the decision-makers request for effective strategies for peatlands.

A number of international conventions are related to peatlands and wetland protection like the Ramsar Convention (GGAP concerning peatlands), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Joosten & Clarke, 2002). However, too little is known about how to control the negative impacts associated with the use of peatlands.