EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Revisiting Carbon Storage in Northern Peatlands: Ground-Based Estimates and Top-Down Constraints from Holocene Global Carbon Budget Reconstructions

Zicheng Yu1,2, Fortunat Joos3, Thomas Bauska4, Benjamin Stocker5, Hubertus Fischer3, Julie Loisel6, Victor Brovkin7, Gustaf Hugelius8, Christoph Nehrbass-Ahles9, Thomas Kleinen7, and Jochen Schmitt33
Zicheng Yu et al.
  • 1Lehigh University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Bethlehem, United States of America (
  • 2Institute for Peat and Mire Research, School of Geographical Sciences, Northeast Normal University, 130024 Changchun, China
  • 3Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 4British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
  • 5D-USYS, ETH Zürich, LFW C 55.3, Universitätstrasse 2, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
  • 6Department of Geography, Texas A&M University, 3147 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, USA
  • 7Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
  • 8Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 9Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EQ, UK

Northern peatlands store large amounts of carbon (C) and have played an important role in the global carbon cycle since the Last Glacial Maximum. Most northern peatlands have established since the end of the deglaciation and accumulated C over the Holocene, leading to a total present-day stock of 500 ± 100 GtC. This is a consolidated estimate, emerging from a diversity of methods using observational data. Recently, Nichols and Peteet (2019 Nature Geoscience 12: 917-921) presented an estimate of the northern peat C stock of 1055 GtC—exceeding previous estimates by a factor of two. Here, we will review various approaches and estimates of northern peatlands C storage in the literature and consider peat C storage in the context of the Holocene global C budget. We argue that the estimate by Nichols and Peteet is an overestimate, caused by systematic bias introduced by their inclusion of data that are representative for the major peatland regions and of records that lack direct measurements of C density. In particular, some “peatland” sites and data that were included in their synthesis were likely from lacustrine sediments prior to the onset of peat deposits. Furthermore, we argue that their estimate cannot be reconciled within the constraints offered by ice-core and marine records of stable C isotopes and estimated contributions from other processes that affected the terrestrial C storage during the Holocene.

How to cite: Yu, Z., Joos, F., Bauska, T., Stocker, B., Fischer, H., Loisel, J., Brovkin, V., Hugelius, G., Nehrbass-Ahles, C., Kleinen, T., and Schmitt3, J.: Revisiting Carbon Storage in Northern Peatlands: Ground-Based Estimates and Top-Down Constraints from Holocene Global Carbon Budget Reconstructions, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-10779,, 2020

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