Peat

Peat

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Encyclopedia
Peat is an accumulation of partially decay
Decomposition
Decomposition is the process by which organic material is broken down into simpler forms of matter. The process is essential for recycling the finite matter that occupies physical space in the biome. Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death...

ed vegetation
Vegetation
Vegetation is a general term for the plant life of a region; it refers to the ground cover provided by plants. It is a general term, without specific reference to particular taxa, life forms, structure, spatial extent, or any other specific botanical or geographic characteristics. It is broader...

 matter
Biological tissue
Tissue is a cellular organizational level intermediate between cells and a complete organism. A tissue is an ensemble of cells, not necessarily identical, but from the same origin, that together carry out a specific function. These are called tissues because of their identical functioning...

 or histosol
Histosol
In both the FAO soil classification and the USA soil taxonomy, a histosol is a soil consisting primarily of organic materials. They are defined as having or more of organic soil material in the upper . Organic soil material has an organic carbon content of 12 to 18 percent, or more, depending on...

. Peat forms in wetland
Wetland
A wetland is an area of land whose soil is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are categorised by their characteristic vegetation, which is adapted to these unique soil conditions....

 bog
Bog
A bog, quagmire or mire is a wetland that accumulates acidic peat, a deposit of dead plant material—often mosses or, in Arctic climates, lichens....

s, moors
Moorland
Moorland or moor is a type of habitat, in the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome, found in upland areas, characterised by low-growing vegetation on acidic soils and heavy fog...

, muskeg
Muskeg
Muskeg is an acidic soil type common in Arctic and boreal areas, although it is found in other northern climates as well. Muskeg is approximately synonymous with bogland but muskeg is the standard term in Western Canada and Alaska, while 'bog' is common elsewhere. The term is of Cree origin, maskek...

s, pocosin
Pocosin
Pocosin is a term for a type of palustrine wetland with deep, acidic, sandy, peat soils. Groundwater saturates the soil except during brief seasonal dry spells and during prolonged droughts...

s, mire
Miré
Miré is a commune in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France....

s, and peat swamp forest
Peat swamp forest
Peat swamp forests are tropical moist forests where waterlogged soils prevent dead leaves and wood from fully decomposing, which over time creates a thick layer of acidic peat...

s. Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel
Fuel
Fuel is any material that stores energy that can later be extracted to perform mechanical work in a controlled manner. Most fuels used by humans undergo combustion, a redox reaction in which a combustible substance releases energy after it ignites and reacts with the oxygen in the air...

 in certain parts of the world. By volume, there are about 4 trillion m³ of peat in the world covering a total of around 2% of global land area (about 3 million km²), containing about 8 billion terajoules of energy.

Losing 5% of the 2.7m hectares of peatland in Britain, would equal UK's annual carbon emissions and risk its climate targets
Carbon Emission Reduction Target
The Carbon Emission Reduction Target in the United Kingdom is a target imposed on the gas and electricity transporters and suppliers under Section 33BC of the Gas Act 1986 and Section 41A of the Electricity Act 1989, as modified by the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006The original...

 (IUCN). The UK is amongst the top ten nations of the world in the peatland area and has 9-15% of Europe’s peatland area.

Geographic distribution



Peatlands are areas of land with a naturally accumulated layer of
peat. Peatlands are found in at least 175 countries and cover around 4 million km2 or 3% of the world’s land area. In Europe, peatlands extend to ca. 515,000 km2.

Peat deposits are found in many places around the world, notably in Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

, Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

, Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

, Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

, Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, Northern England
Northern England
Northern England, also known as the North of England, the North or the North Country, is a cultural region of England. It is not an official government region, but rather an informal amalgamation of counties. The southern extent of the region is roughly the River Trent, while the North is bordered...

 (Particularly in the Pennines), Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, northern Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 and in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, principally in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 (Michigan
Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

, Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

, the Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 Everglades
Everglades
The Everglades are subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee...

, and California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta). The amount of peat is smaller in the southern hemisphere, partly because there is less land, but peat can be found in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, Kerguelen, Southern Patagonia
Patagonia
Patagonia is a region located in Argentina and Chile, integrating the southernmost section of the Andes mountains to the southwest towards the Pacific ocean and from the east of the cordillera to the valleys it follows south through Colorado River towards Carmen de Patagones in the Atlantic Ocean...

/Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan. The archipelago consists of a main island Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego divided between Chile and Argentina with an area of , and a group of smaller islands including Cape...

 and the Falkland Islands
Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, located about from the coast of mainland South America. The archipelago consists of East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 lesser islands. The capital, Stanley, is on East Falkland...

, Indonesia (Kalimantan
Kalimantan
In English, the term Kalimantan refers to the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, while in Indonesian, the term "Kalimantan" refers to the whole island of Borneo....

 (Sungai Putri, Danau Siawan, Sungai Tolak, Rasau Jaya (West Kalimantan), and Sumatra). Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

 has more tropical peat land and mangrove forests than any other nation on earth, but Indonesia is losing wetlands by 100,000 hectares per year.

Approximately 60% of the world's wetland
Wetland
A wetland is an area of land whose soil is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are categorised by their characteristic vegetation, which is adapted to these unique soil conditions....

s are peat. About 7% of total peatlands have been exploited for agriculture and forestry. Under proper conditions, peat will turn into lignite
Lignite
Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, or Rosebud coal by Northern Pacific Railroad,is a soft brown fuel with characteristics that put it somewhere between coal and peat...

 coal over geologic periods of time.

Formation


Peat forms when plant material, usually in marshy areas, is inhibited from decaying fully by acidic and anaerobic conditions. It is composed mainly of marshland vegetation: trees, grasses, fungi, as well as other types of organic remains, such as insect
Insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s, and animal remains. Under certain conditions, the decomposition of the latter (in the absence of oxygen) is inhibited, and archaeologists often take advantage of this.

Peat layer growth and the degree of decomposition (or humification, transformation to humus) depends principally on its composition and on the degree of waterlogging. Peat formed in very wet conditions accumulates considerably faster, and is less decomposed, than that in drier places. This allows climatologists
Climatology
Climatology is the study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time, and is a branch of the atmospheric sciences...

 to use peat as an indicator of climatic change. The composition of peat can also be used to reconstruct ancient ecologies by examining the types and quantities of its organic constituents.

Under the proper conditions, peat is the earliest stage in the formation of coal
Coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

.

Most modern peat bogs formed in high latitudes after the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

 some 9,000 years ago. They usually grow slowly, at the rate of about a millimetre per year.

The peat in the world's peatlands has been forming for 360 million years and contains 550 Gt of carbon.

Types of peat material


Peat material is either fibric, hemic, or sapric. Fibric peats are the least decomposed, and comprise intact fiber. Hemic peats are somewhat decomposed, and sapric are the most decomposed.
Phragmites peat is one composed of reed grass, Phragmites
Phragmites
Phragmites, the Common reed, is a large perennial grass found in wetlands throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world. Phragmites australis is sometimes regarded as the sole species of the genus Phragmites, though some botanists divide Phragmites australis into three or four species...

 australis
, and other grasses. It is denser than many other types of peat.
Engineers may describe a soil as peat which has a relatively high percentage of organic material. This soil is problematic because it exhibits poor consolidation properties.

Characteristics and uses




Peat is soft and easily compressed. Under pressure, water in the peat is forced out. Upon drying, peat can be used as a fuel
Fossil fuel
Fossil fuels are fuels formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms. The age of the organisms and their resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes exceeds 650 million years...

. It has industrial importance as a fuel in some countries, such as Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 and Finland, where it is harvested on an industrial scale. In many countries, including Ireland and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, where trees are often scarce, peat is traditionally used for cooking and domestic heating. Stacks of drying peat dug from the bogs can still be seen in some rural areas.

Peat's insulating properties make it of use to industry.

In Scotland


Some Scotch whisky distilleries, such as those on Islay
Islay
-Prehistory:The earliest settlers on Islay were nomadic hunter-gatherers who arrived during the Mesolithic period after the retreat of the Pleistocene ice caps. In 1993 a flint arrowhead was found in a field near Bridgend dating from 10,800 BC, the earliest evidence of a human presence found so far...

, use peat fires to dry malted barley
Barley
Barley is a major cereal grain, a member of the grass family. It serves as a major animal fodder, as a base malt for beer and certain distilled beverages, and as a component of various health foods...

. This gives some Scotch whisky a distinctive smoky flavour, often called "peatiness".

Although peat has many uses for humans, it also presents severe problems at times. Wet or dry, it can be a major fire hazard, as peat fires can burn almost indefinitely (or at least until the fuel is exhausted). Peat fires can even burn underground, reigniting after the winter, provided there is a source of oxygen. Peat deposits also pose major difficulties to builders of structures, roads, and railways, as they are highly compressible under even small loads. When the West Highland Line
West Highland Line
The West Highland Line is considered the most scenic railway line in Britain, linking the ports of Mallaig and Oban on the west coast of Scotland to Glasgow. The line was voted the top rail journey in the world by readers of independent travel magazine Wanderlust in 2009, ahead of the iconic...

 was built across Rannoch Moor
Rannoch Moor
Rannoch Moor is a large expanse of around 50 square miles of boggy moorland to the west of Loch Rannoch, in Perth and Kinross and Lochaber, Highland, partly northern Argyll and Bute, Scotland...

 in western Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, its builders had to float the tracks on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth and ashes.

Peat bogs had considerable ritual significance to Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 and Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 peoples, who considered them to be home to (or at least associated with) nature gods or spirits. The bodies of the victims of ritual sacrifices have been found in a number of locations in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, and especially northern Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, almost perfectly preserved by the tanning properties of the acidic water. (See Tollund Man
Tollund Man
The Tollund Man is the naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC, during the time period characterised in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age. He was found in 1950 buried in a peat bog on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, which preserved his body. Such a find is...

 for one of the most famous examples of a bog body
Bog body
Bog bodies, which are also known as bog people, are the naturally preserved human corpses found in the sphagnum bogs in Northern Europe. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained their skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of the surrounding area...

).

Peat wetlands formerly had a degree of metallurgical importance as well. During the Dark Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, peat bogs were the primary source of bog iron
Bog iron
Bog iron refers to impure iron deposits that develop in bogs or swamps by the chemical or biochemical oxidation of iron carried in the solutions. In general, bog ores consist primarily of iron oxyhydroxides, commonly goethite...

, used to create the swords and armour of the Vikings.

Many peat swamps along the coast of Malaysia serve as a natural means of flood mitigation. The peat swamps serve like a natural form of water catchment whereby any overflow will be absorbed by the peat. However, this is effective only if the forests are still present, since they prevent peat fires.

In Ireland



In Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, large-scale domestic and industrial peat usage is widespread. Specifically in the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, a state-owned company called Bord na Móna
Bord na Móna
Bord na Móna , abbreviated BNM, is a semi-state company in Ireland, created in 1946 by the Turf Development Act 1946. The company is responsible for the mechanised harvesting of peat, primarily in the Midlands of Ireland...

 is responsible for managing peat production. It produces milled peat which is used in power stations. It sells processed peat fuel in the form of peat briquette
Briquette
A briquette is a block of flammable matter used as fuel to start and maintain a fire. Common types of briquettes are charcoal briquettes and biomass briquettes.-Constituents of charcoal briquettes:...

s which are used for domestic heating. These are oblong bars of densely compressed, dried and shredded peat. Briquettes are largely smokeless when burned in domestic fireplaces and as such are widely used in Irish towns and cities where burning non-smokeless coal is banned. Peat moss is a manufactured product for use in garden cultivation. Turf (dried out peat sod
Sod
Sod or turf is grass and the part of the soil beneath it held together by the roots, or a piece of thin material.The term sod may be used to mean turf grown and cut specifically for the establishment of lawns...

s) is very commonly used in rural areas.

In England


On Dartmoor
Dartmoor
Dartmoor is an area of moorland in south Devon, England. Protected by National Park status, it covers .The granite upland dates from the Carboniferous period of geological history. The moorland is capped with many exposed granite hilltops known as tors, providing habitats for Dartmoor wildlife. The...

 there were several commercial distillation plants formed and run by the British Patent Naphtha Company in 1844. These produced Naphtha
Naphtha
Naphtha normally refers to a number of different flammable liquid mixtures of hydrocarbons, i.e., a component of natural gas condensate or a distillation product from petroleum, coal tar or peat boiling in a certain range and containing certain hydrocarbons. It is a broad term covering among the...

 on a commercial scale from the high quality local peat.

In Finland


The climate, geography and environment of Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 favour bog and peat bog formation. Peat is available in considerable quantities: Some estimates put the amount of peat in Finland alone to be twice the size of the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 oil reserves
Oil reserves
The total estimated amount of oil in an oil reservoir, including both producible and non-producible oil, is called oil in place. However, because of reservoir characteristics and limitations in petroleum extraction technologies, only a fraction of this oil can be brought to the surface, and it is...

. This abundant resource (often mixed with wood at an average of 2.6%) is burned to produce heat
Heat
In physics and thermodynamics, heat is energy transferred from one body, region, or thermodynamic system to another due to thermal contact or thermal radiation when the systems are at different temperatures. It is often described as one of the fundamental processes of energy transfer between...

 and electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

. Peat provides approximately 6.2% of Finland's annual energy production, second only to Ireland. The contribution of peat to greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

 emissions of Finland can exceed a yearly amount of 10 million tonnes carbon dioxide, equal to the total emissions of all passenger car traffic in Finland.

Finland classifies peat as a slowly renewing biomass fuel and that position has also been taken by the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific intergovernmental body which provides comprehensive assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information worldwide about the risk of climate change caused by human activity, its potential environmental and...

 has taken the position that peat is not a fossil fuel
Fossil fuel
Fossil fuels are fuels formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms. The age of the organisms and their resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes exceeds 650 million years...

. Peat producers in Finland often claim that peat is a special form of biofuel
Biofuel
Biofuel is a type of fuel whose energy is derived from biological carbon fixation. Biofuels include fuels derived from biomass conversion, as well as solid biomass, liquid fuels and various biogases...

, because of the relatively fast retake rate of released CO2
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 if the bog is not forested for the following 100 years. Also, agricultural and forestry-drained peat bogs actively release more CO2 annually than is released in peat energy production in Finland. The average regrowth rate of a single peat bog, however, is indeed slow, from 1,000 up to 5,000 years. Furthermore it is a common practice to forest used peat bogs instead of giving them a chance to renew, leading to lower levels of CO2 storage than the original peat bog.

At 106 g CO2/MJ
Joule
The joule ; symbol J) is a derived unit of energy or work in the International System of Units. It is equal to the energy expended in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre , or in passing an electric current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm for one second...

, the carbon dioxide emissions of peat are higher than those of coal (at 94.6 g CO2/MJ) and natural gas
Natural gas
Natural gas is a naturally occurring gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, typically with 0–20% higher hydrocarbons . It is found associated with other hydrocarbon fuel, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is an important fuel source and a major feedstock for fertilizers.Most natural...

 (at 56.1) (IPCC). According to one study, increasing the average amount of wood in the fuel mixture from the current 2.6% to 12.5% would take the emissions down to 93 g CO2/MJ, though little effort is made to achieve this.

Peat extraction is also seen by some conservationists as the main threat to mire biodiversity
Biodiversity
Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity is in part a function of climate. In terrestrial habitats, tropical regions are typically rich whereas polar regions...

 in Finland. The International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) in 2006 urged the local and national governments of Finland to protect and conserve the remaining pristine peatland ecosystems. This includes the cessation of drainage and peat extraction in intact mire sites and the abandoning of current and planned groundwater extraction that may affect these sites.

In Russia



Use of peat for energy production was prominent during the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, with the peak occurring in 1965 and declining from that point. In 1929, over 40% of the Soviet Union's electric energy came from peat, which dropped to 1% by 1980.

In the 1960s, larger sections of swamps and bogs in Western Russia were drained for agricultural use and to generate peat fields for mining. Plans are underway to increase peat output and increase peat's contribution to Russian energy generation. However, there is concern about the environmental impact as peat fields are flammable, drainage degrades eco-systems, and burning of peat releases carbon dioxide. Due to 2010 forest and peat fires
2010 Russian wildfires
The 2010 Russian wildfires were several hundred wildfires that broke out across Russia, primarily in the west, starting in late July 2010, due to record temperatures and drought in the region...

 the Russian government is under heavy pressure to finance re-flooding of the previously drained bogs around Moscow. The initial costs for the programme are estimated to be about 20 to 25 billion rubles, which is close to 500 million euros.

Currently, Russia is responsible for 17% of the world's peat production, and 20% of the peat that it produces, 1.5 million tons, is used for energy purposes. Shatura Power Station
Shatura Power Station
The Shatura Power Station is one of the oldest power stations in Russia. The facility is located in Shatura, Moscow Oblast, and generates power by utilizing two 210 MW units, three 200 MW units, and one 80 MW unit, totalling the installed capacity to 1,100 MW...

 in Moscow Oblast
Moscow Oblast
Moscow Oblast , or Podmoskovye , is a federal subject of Russia . Its area, at , is relatively small compared to other federal subjects, but it is one of the most densely populated regions in the country and, with the 2010 population of 7,092,941, is the second most populous federal subject...

 and Kirov Power Station in Kirov Oblast
Kirov Oblast
Kirov Oblast is a federal subject of Russia . Its administrative center is the city of Kirov. Population: -History:In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Vyatka remained a place of exile for opponents of the tsarist regime, including many prominent revolutionary figures.In 1920, a number of...

 are the two largest peat power stations in the world.

Use in agriculture


Peat is important for farmers and gardeners, who mix it into soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

 to improve its structure
Soil structure
Soil structure is determined by how individual soil granules clump or bind together and aggregate, and therefore, the arrangement of soil pores between them...

 and to increase acidity. The most important property of peat is retaining moisture in soil when it is dry and yet preventing the excess of water from killing roots when it is wet. Peat can store nutrient
Nutrient
A nutrient is a chemical that an organism needs to live and grow or a substance used in an organism's metabolism which must be taken in from its environment. They are used to build and repair tissues, regulate body processes and are converted to and used as energy...

s although it is not fertile itself.

Peat is discouraged as a soil amendment by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to as Kew Gardens, is 121 hectares of gardens and botanical glasshouses between Richmond and Kew in southwest London, England. "The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" and the brand name "Kew" are also used as umbrella terms for the institution that runs...

, England, and has been since 2003.

Peat is an important raw material in horticulture
Horticulture
Horticulture is the industry and science of plant cultivation including the process of preparing soil for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings. Horticulturists work and conduct research in the disciplines of plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic...

. However, it is recommended to treat peat thermally, e.g. through soil steaming
Soil steam sterilization
Soil steam sterilization is a farming technique that sterilizes soil with steam in open fields or greenhouses. Pests of plant cultures such as weeds, bacteria, fungi and viruses are killed through induced hot steam which causes their cell structure to physically degenerate. Biologically, the...

, in order to kill inherent pest and reactivate nutrients.

Freshwater aquaria


Peat is sometimes used in freshwater aquaria
Aquarium
An aquarium is a vivarium consisting of at least one transparent side in which water-dwelling plants or animals are kept. Fishkeepers use aquaria to keep fish, invertebrates, amphibians, marine mammals, turtles, and aquatic plants...

, most commonly in soft water or blackwater river
Blackwater river
A blackwater river is a river with a deep, slow-moving channel that flows through forested swamps and wetlands. As vegetation decays in the water, tannins are leached out, resulting in transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained, resembling tea or coffee. Most major blackwater rivers are in...

 systems, such as those mimicking the Amazon River
Amazon River
The Amazon of South America is the second longest river in the world and by far the largest by waterflow with an average discharge greater than the next seven largest rivers combined...

 basin. In addition to being soft in texture and therefore suitable for demersal (bottom-dwelling) species such as Corydoras
Corydoras
Members of the South American Corydoras genus are freshwater temperate and tropical catfish in the armored catfish family , and are commonly referred to as corydorases, cories, or cory catfish.-Taxonomy:...

catfish, peat is reported to have a number of other beneficial functions in freshwater aquaria. It softens water by acting as an ion exchange
Ion exchange
Ion exchange is an exchange of ions between two electrolytes or between an electrolyte solution and a complex. In most cases the term is used to denote the processes of purification, separation, and decontamination of aqueous and other ion-containing solutions with solid polymeric or mineralic 'ion...

r; it also contains substances that are beneficial for plants, and for the reproductive health of fishes. It can even prevent algae growth and kill microorganisms. Peat often stains the water yellow or brown due to the leaching of tannin
Tannin
A tannin is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids.The term tannin refers to the use of...

s.

Water filtration


Peat is used in water filtration, such as for the treatment of septic tank effluent, as well as for urban runoff.

Balneotherapy


Peat is widely used in balneotherapy
Balneotherapy
Balneotherapy is the treatment of disease by bathing, usually practiced at spas. While it is considered distinct from hydrotherapy, there are some overlaps in practice and in underlying principles. Balneotherapy may involve hot or cold water, massage through moving water, relaxation or stimulation...

 (the use of bathing to treat disease). Many traditional spa treatments include peat as part of peloid
Peloid
thumb|Family of African Bush Elephants taking a mud bath in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya.Peloid is mud, or clay used therapeutically, as part of balneotherapy, or therapeutic bathing...

s. Such health treatments have a very long tradition in Europe, especially in the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. Some of these old spas go back to the 18th century, and they are still active today. The most common types of peat application in balneotherapy are peat muds, poultices, and suspension baths.

Environmental and ecological issues


Because of the challenging ecological conditions of peat wetlands, they are home to many rare and specialised organisms that are found nowhere else. Some environmental organisations and scientists have pointed out that the large-scale removal of peat from bogs in Britain, Ireland and Finland is destroying wildlife habitats. It takes centuries for a peat bog to regenerate.

Recent studies indicate that the world's largest peat bog, located in Western Siberia and the size of France and Germany combined, is thawing for the first time in 11,000 years. As the permafrost melts, it could release billions of tons of methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 gas into the atmosphere.

The world's peatlands are thought to contain 180 to 455 billion metric tons
Tonne
The tonne, known as the metric ton in the US , often put pleonastically as "metric tonne" to avoid confusion with ton, is a metric system unit of mass equal to 1000 kilograms. The tonne is not an International System of Units unit, but is accepted for use with the SI...

 of sequestered carbon, and they release into the atmosphere 20 to 45 million metric tons of methane annually. The peatlands' contribution to long-term fluctuations in these atmospheric gases has been a matter of considerable debate.

Peat drainage


Large areas of organic wetland (peat) soils are currently drained for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction. This process is taking place all over the world. This not only destroys the habitat of many species, but heavily fuels climate change. As a result of peat drainage, the organic carbon that was built up over thousands of years and is normally under water, is suddenly exposed to the air. It decomposes and turns into carbon dioxide (CO2), which is released into the atmosphere. The global CO2 emissions from drained peatlands have increased from 1,058 Mton in 1990 to 1,298 Mton in 2008 (>20%). This increase has particularly taken place in developing countries of which Indonesia, China, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea are the fastest growing top emitters. This estimate excludes emissions from peat fires (conservative estimates amount to at least 4,000 Mton/CO2-eq./yr for south-east Asia. With 174 Mton/CO2-eq./yr the EU is after Indonesia (500 Mton) and before Russia (161 Mton) the World's 2nd largest emitter of drainage related peatland CO2 (excl. extracted peat and fires). Total CO2 emissions from the worldwide 500,000 km2 of degraded peatland may exceed 2 Gtons (including emissions from peat fires) which is almost 6% of all global carbon emissions.

Fires



Peat has a high carbon content and can burn under low moisture conditions. Once ignited by the presence of a heat source (e.g. a wildfire penetrating the subsurface), it smolders. These smoldering fires can burn undetected for very long periods of time (months, years and even centuries) propagating in a creeping fashion through the underground peat layer. Peat fires are emerging as a global threat with significant economic, social and ecological impacts.
Recent burning of peat bogs in Indonesia, with their large and deep growths containing more than 50 billion tons of carbon, has contributed to increases in world carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 levels. Peat deposits in Southeast Asia could be destroyed by 2040.

In 1997, it is estimated that peat and forest fires in Indonesia
1997 Southeast Asian haze
The 1997 Southeast Asian haze was a large-scale air quality disaster which occurred during the second half of 1997, its after-effects causing widespread atmospheric visibility and health problems within Southeast Asia...

 released between 0.81 and 2.57 Gt of carbon; equivalent to 13–40 percent of the amount released by global fossil fuel burning, and greater than the carbon uptake of the world's biosphere. These fires may be responsible for the acceleration in the increase in carbon dioxide levels since 1998.

In North America, peat fires have a returning cycle (70–130 years) depending on the recolonization by Black Spruce
Black Spruce
Picea mariana is a species of spruce native to northern North America, from Newfoundland west to Alaska, and south to northern New York, Minnesota and central British Columbia...

 (Picea mariana). Once a fire has burnt through the area normally hollows in the peat are burnt out, and hummocks are desiccated but can contribute to Sphagnum
Sphagnum
Sphagnum is a genus of between 151 and 350 species of mosses commonly called peat moss, due to its prevalence in peat bogs and mires. A distinction is made between sphagnum moss, the live moss growing on top of a peat bog on one hand, and sphagnum peat moss or sphagnum peat on the other, the...

recolonization.

More than 100 peat fires in Kalimantan
Kalimantan
In English, the term Kalimantan refers to the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, while in Indonesian, the term "Kalimantan" refers to the whole island of Borneo....

 and East Sumatra
Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

 have continued to burn since 1997. Each year, the peat fires in Kalimantan and East Sumatra ignite new forest fires above the ground.

In the summer of 2010, an unusually high heat wave of up to 40 °C (104 °F) ignited large deposits of peat in Central Russia, burning thousands of houses
2010 Russian wildfires
The 2010 Russian wildfires were several hundred wildfires that broke out across Russia, primarily in the west, starting in late July 2010, due to record temperatures and drought in the region...

 and covering the capital of Moscow with a toxic smoke blanket
Smog
Smog is a type of air pollution; the word "smog" is a portmanteau of smoke and fog. Modern smog is a type of air pollution derived from vehicular emission from internal combustion engines and industrial fumes that react in the atmosphere with sunlight to form secondary pollutants that also combine...

. The situation remained critical until the end of August 2010.

Wise use and protection


In June 2002, the United Nations Development Programme launched the Wetlands Ecosystem and Tropical Peat Swamp Forest Rehabilitation Project. This project was targeted to last for 5 years until 2007 and brings together the efforts of various non-government organisations.

In November 2002, the International Peat Society and the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) published guidelines on the "Wise Use of Mires and Peatlands — Backgrounds and Principles including a framework for decision-making". The aim of this publication is to develop mechanisms that can balance the conflicting demands on the global peatland heritage, to ensure its wise use to meet the needs of humankind.

In June 2008, the International Peat Society published the book "Peatlands and Climate Change", summarizing the currently available knowledge on the topic.

See also

  • Acid sulfate soil
    Acid sulfate soil
    Acid sulfate soils are naturally occurring soils, sediments or organic substrates that are formed under waterlogged conditions. These soils contain iron sulfide minerals or their oxidation products. In an undisturbed state below the water table, acid sulfate soils are benign...

  • Acrotelm
    Acrotelm
    The acrotelm is one of two distinct layers in undisturbed peat bogs. It overlies the catotelm, the boundary between the two layers being defined by the lowest level of the water table. Fluctuations in water table in a peat bog occur within the acrotelm, and hence conditions may vary from aerobic to...

  • Histosols
  • Irish Peatland Conservation Council
    Irish Peatland Conservation Council
    The Irish Peatland Conservation Council is a national organisation established in 1982 to conserve and protect a representative sample of Irish bogs....

  • List of bogs
  • Peat-fired power stations
  • Tropical peat
    Tropical peat
    Areas of tropical peat are found mostly in South East Asia although are also found in Africa, Central and South America and elsewhere around the Pacific Ocean. Tropical peatlands are significant carbon sinks and store large amounts of carbon and their destruction can significantly impact on the...

  • Turbary
    Turbary
    Turbary is the term used to describe the ancient right to cut turf, or peat, for fuel on a particular area of bog. The word may also be used to describe the associated piece of bog or peatland and, by extension, the material extracted from the turbary...

  • Unified Soil Classification System
    Unified Soil Classification System
    The Unified Soil Classification System is a soil classification system used in engineering and geology to describe the texture and grain size of a soil. The classification system can be applied to most unconsolidated materials, and is represented by a two-letter symbol...


External links