Peatlands are carbon-rich ecosystems that cover just 3% of Earth’s land surface, but store one-third of soil carbon. Peat soils are formed by the build-up of partially decomposed organic matter under waterlogged anoxic conditions. Most peat is found in cool climatic regions where unimpeded decomposition is slower, but deposits are also found under some tropical swamp forests (Page et al. 2011).
School of Geography PhD researchers have recently discovered two very large peat deposits in Western Amazonia (Draper et al. 2015) and the central Congo Basin (Dargie et al. 2017). This is having important impacts in terms of our understanding of the conditions under which peat forms, the regionally and globally significant carbon stocks of tropical peatlands, as well as by helping to increase the legal protection of these newly discovered carbon-rich ecosystems.
However, many other swamp forests exist in tropical Africa, of which it is unknown whether they contain peat as well. In this project, I will use theories of how peat forms and remotely sensed data from satellites to identify likely areas of peat development outside the central Congo Basin. Via ground measurements and lab analysis of peat properties, I will then assess the diversity of peatlands in lowland tropical Africa.
My aim is to make the first data-driven estimates of the carbon stocks in peatlands for lowland tropical Africa.
Key objectives are:
- to use, refine and improve newly developed techniques to utilise multiple satellite datasets (radar and optical) to make predictions of where peat will likely occur in lowland tropical Africa.
- to test these predictions on the ground, collect peat samples, and analyse peat properties in the lab.
- to assess the likely extent of the visited peatlands and scale the results to the continent.
Ultimately, this will add new information on the presence of peat to local management plans, and may encourage new legal protection of these carbon-rich ecosystems.
Cluster & research affiliations
- MSc, Global change & ecosystems, Utrecht University
- BSc, Environmental science, University College Utrecht
- BA, Anthropology and Geography, University College Utrecht
Research groups and institutes
- Ecology and Global Change
- River Basin Processes and Management