A team of scientists from Aberdeen University will travel to the Falkland Islands to study the impact of peatlands on global carbon dioxide levels.
The £230,000 research project, which will take place next year, will examine how the intensity, frequency and extent of burning of fires affect peatlands’ ability to store carbon.
Peatlands, which cover 3% of the world’s surface, are an important ecosystem and store twice as much carbon dioxide as the earth’s forests.
However, they are becoming more prone to burning, which leads to the gas being released into the atmosphere.
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Dr David Muirhead, from the university’s school of geosciences, said: “This project will merge geoscience and bioscience in innovative ways, using techniques typically used in geological settings, for example the oil and gas industry, and applying those to an environmental focus.
“One of the techniques we will use is Raman spectroscopy – a versatile and non-destructive technique which we routinely use in Aberdeen to understand thermal maturity of carbon, for example in hydrocarbon basins – to investigate the relationship between the frequency, extent and intensity of burning, and the amount of carbon stored in peatlands over decades, centuries and millennia.”
Dr Dmitri Mauquoy added: “Previous approaches will tell you when and where peatland fires occurred, but they won’t tell you how hot the fires were – this is important, as we need to understand the damage caused to peatland ecosystems by intense fires.”
He added: “Because of climate change and human disturbance a lot of peatlands are burning more frequently, so we need to understand what this means in terms of the ability of peatlands to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.
“That is why we’re going to the Falkland Islands – half of the islands are peat covered but they’re also very dry, so we’re interested to see how peatlands function in the extremes of where they can form.
“In Scotland we expect to experience drier summers leading to more peat fires, and these Southern Hemisphere peatlands could provide valuable clues as to how Scottish and other important Northern Hemisphere peatlands – such as those in Russia and North America – may store carbon in the future.”