Agricultural peatlands: towards a greenhouse gas sink – a synthesis of a Dutch landscape study

Schrier-Uijl, A. P.; Kroon, P. S.; Hendriks, D. M. D.; Hensen, A.; Van Huissteden, J.; Berendse, F.; Veenendaal, E. M.

It is generally known that managed, drained peatlands act as carbon (C) sources. In this study we examined how mitigation through the reduction of the intensity of land management and through rewetting may affect the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and the C balance of intensively managed, drained, agricultural peatlands. Carbon and GHG balances were determined for three peatlands in the western part of the Netherlands from 2005 to 2008 by considering spatial and temporal variability of emissions (CO 2, CH 4 and N 2O). One area (Oukoop) is an intensively managed grass-on-peatland area, including a dairy farm, with the ground water level at an average annual depth of 0.55 (±0.37) m below the soil surface. The second area (Stein) is an extensively managed grass-on-peatland area, formerly intensively managed, with a dynamic ground water level at an average annual depth of 0.45 (±0.35) m below the soil surface. The third area is a (since 1998) rewetted former agricultural peatland (Horstermeer), close to Oukoop and Stein, with the average annual ground water level at a depth of 0.2 (±0.20) m below the soil surface. During the measurement campaigns we found that both agriculturally managed sites acted as C and GHG sources and the rewetted former agricultural peatland acted as a C and GHG sink. The ecosystem (fields and ditches) total GHG balance, including CO 2, CH 4 and N 2O, amounted to 3.9 (±0.4), 1.3 (±0.5) and −1.7 (±1.8) g CO 2-eq m −2 d −1 for Oukoop, Stein and Horstermeer, respectively. Adding the farm-based emissions to Oukoop and Stein resulted in a total GHG emission of 8.3 (±1.0) and 6.6 (±1.3) g CO 2-eq m −2 d −1, respectively. For Horstermeer the GHG balance remained the same since no farm-based emissions exist. Considering the C balance (uncertainty range 40–60%), the total C release in Oukoop and Stein is 5270 and 6258 kg C ha −1 yr −1, respectively (including ecosystem and management fluxes), and the total C uptake in Horstermeer is 3538 kg C ha −1 yr −1. Water bodies contributed significantly to the terrestrial GHG balance because of a high release of CH 4.

Overall, this study suggests that managed peatlands are large sources of GHGs and C, but, if appropriate measures are taken, they can be turned back into GHG and C sinks within 15 years of abandonment and rewetting. The shift from an intensively managed grass-on-peat area (Oukoop) to an extensively managed one (Stein) reduced the GHG emissions mainly because N 2O emission and farm-based CH 4 emissions decreased.

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Schrier-Uijl, A. P. / Kroon, P. S. / Hendriks, D. M. D. / et al: Agricultural peatlands: towards a greenhouse gas sink – a synthesis of a Dutch landscape study. 2014. Copernicus Publications.

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