Bogs Watched for Warning Signs of Carbon Upset

Wetlands a Global Warming Antidote, But for How Long?

Trent University professor Peter Lafleur

Trent University professor Peter Lafleur is part of a research team that monitors the behavior of the Mer Bleue bog year around. They're measuring how much carbon dioxide the bog takes in, and how much the wetland releases. Richard Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Harris, NPR
Mer Bleue Bog

Bogs like Mer Bleue operate as vast carbon sinks, soaking up more carbon than they produce. Scientists are concerned that if that dynamic changed, it could slow or accelerate global warming. Peter Lafleur, Trent University hide caption

itoggle caption Peter Lafleur, Trent University
Trent University professor Peter Lafleur.

Trent University professor Peter Lafleur. Richard Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Harris, NPR

The peat bogs that produce sphagnum moss for your garden center may seem like lowly ecosystems. But globally, these bogs contain more carbon than all the world's tropical rainforests. A decade ago, scientists started to worry that as the world warms, this vast store of carbon could vent out as carbon dioxide and speed up global warming. NPR's Richard Harris visited a peat bog in Ontario, where researchers are trying to understand the role of bogs in climate change.

The Global Carbon Cycle

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For the past eight years, researchers from McGill and Trent universities have set up a series of experiments at Mer Bleue bog to measure potential changes in carbon respiration. The bog plants take in carbon dioxide during the day, and release it at night. That balance is critical because land plants produce about 10 times as much carbon dioxide as that produced by burning fossil fuels. The difference is plants absorb more of the gas than they produce.

But scientists are concerned that as humans release greater amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into the atmosphere, it may change the cycle of these carbon sinks.



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