Large historical carbon emissions from cultivated northern peatlands

Chunjing Qiu*, Philippe Ciais, Dan Zhu, Bertrand Guenet, Shushi Peng, Ana Maria Roxana Petrescu, Ronny Lauerwald, David Makowski, Angela V. Gallego-Sala, Dan J. Charman, Simon C. Brewer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


When a peatland is drained and cultivated, it behaves as a notable source of CO2. However, we lack temporally and spatially explicit estimates of carbon losses from cultivated peatlands. Using a process-based land surface model that explicitly includes representation of peatland processes, we estimate that northern peatlands converted to croplands emitted 72 Pg C over 850-2010, with 45% of this source having occurred before 1750. This source surpassed the carbon accumulation by high-latitude undisturbed peatlands (36 to 47 Pg C). Carbon losses from the cultivation of northern peatlands are omitted in previous land-use emission assessments. Adding this ignored historical land-use emission implies an 18% larger terrestrial carbon storage since 1750 to close the historical global carbon budget. We also show that carbon emission per unit area decrease with time since drainage, suggesting that time since drainage should be accounted for in inventories to refine land-use emissions from cultivated peatlands.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabf1332
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalScience advances
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2021

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