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A lump of peat Peat (49302157252).jpg
A lump of peat
Peat stacks in Sudmoslesfehn (district of Oldenburg, Germany) in 2013 2013-05-03 Fotoflug Leer Papenburg DSCF6844.jpg
Peat stacks in Südmoslesfehn (district of Oldenburg, Germany) in 2013
Peat gatherers at Westhay, Somerset Levels in 1905 Peat gatherers.JPG
Peat gatherers at Westhay, Somerset Levels in 1905
Peat extraction in East Frisia, Germany Torfabbau-.jpg
Peat extraction in East Frisia, Germany

Peat ( /pt/ ) is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. It is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, mires, moors, or muskegs. [1] [2] Sphagnum moss, also called peat moss, is one of the most common components in peat, although many other plants can contribute. The biological features of sphagnum mosses act to create a habitat aiding peat formation, a phenomenon termed 'habitat manipulation'. [3] Soils consisting primarily of peat are known as histosols. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding or stagnant water obstructs the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition. [4] Peat properties such as organic matter content and saturated hydraulic conductivity can exhibit high spatial heterogeneity. [5]


Peatlands, particularly bogs, are the primary source of peat; [6] although less common, other wetlands, including fens, pocosins, and peat swamp forests, also deposit peat. Landscapes covered in peat are home to specific kinds of plants including Sphagnum moss, ericaceous shrubs, and sedges. [Notes 1] Because organic matter accumulates over thousands of years, peat deposits provide records of past vegetation and climate by preserving plant remains, such as pollen. This allows the reconstruction of past environments and the study of changes in land use. [7]

Peat is used by gardeners and for horticulture in certain parts of the world, [8] but this is being banned in some places. [9] By volume, there are about 4 trillion cubic metres of peat in the world. [10] Over time, the formation of peat is often the first step in the geological formation of fossil fuels such as coal, particularly low-grade coal such as lignite. [11] The peatland ecosystem covers 3.7 million square kilometres (1.4 million square miles) [12] and is the most efficient carbon sink on the planet, [2] [13] because peatland plants capture carbon dioxide (CO2) naturally released from the peat, maintaining an equilibrium. In natural peatlands, the "annual rate of biomass production is greater than the rate of decomposition", but it takes "thousands of years for peatlands to develop the deposits of 1.5 to 2.3 m [4.9 to 7.5 ft], which is the average depth of the boreal [northern] peatlands", [2] which store around 415 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon (about 46 times 2019 global CO2 emissions). [12] Globally, peat stores up to 550 Gt of carbon, 42% of all soil carbon, which exceeds the carbon stored in all other vegetation types, including the world's forests, although it covers just 3% of the land's surface. [14] [15]

Peat is not a renewable source of energy, due to its extraction rate in industrialized countries far exceeding its slow regrowth rate of 1 mm (0.04 in) per year, [16] and as it is also reported that peat regrowth takes place only in 30–40% of peatlands. [17] Centuries of burning and draining of peat by humans has released a significant amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, [18] and much peatland restoration is needed to help limit climate change. [19]


Peat in Lewis, Scotland Peat Lewis.jpg
Peat in Lewis, Scotland

Peat forms when plant material does not fully decay in acidic and anaerobic conditions. It is composed mainly of wetland vegetation: principally bog plants including mosses, sedges, and shrubs. As it accumulates, the peat holds water. This slowly creates wetter conditions that allow the area of wetland to expand. Peatland features can include ponds, ridges, and raised bogs. [6] The characteristics of some bog plants actively promote bog formation. For example, sphagnum mosses actively secrete tannins, which preserve organic material. Sphagnum also have special water-retaining cells, known as hyaline cells, which can release water ensuring the bogland remains constantly wet which helps promote peat production. [20]

Most modern peat bogs formed 12,000 years ago in high latitudes after the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. [21] Peat usually accumulates slowly at the rate of about a millimetre per year. [16] The estimated carbon content is 415 gigatonnes (457 billion short tons) (northern peatlands), [12] 50 Gt (55 billion short tons) (tropical peatlands) and 15 Gt (17 billion short tons) (South America). [22]

Types of peat material

Peat material is either fibric, hemic, or sapric. Fibric peats are the least decomposed and consist of intact fibre. Hemic peats are partially decomposed and sapric are the most decomposed. [23]

Phragmites peat are composed of reed grass, Phragmites 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 – it cannot be easily compacted to serve as a stable foundation to support loads, such as roads or buildings.

Peatlands distribution

In a widely cited article, Joosten and Clarke (2002) described peatlands or mires (which they claim are the same) [Notes 2] [1] as

the most widespread of all wetland types in the world, representing 50 to 70% of global wetlands. They cover over 4 million square kilometres [1.5 million square miles] or 3% of the land and freshwater surface of the planet. In these ecosystems are found one third of the world's soil carbon and 10% of global freshwater resources. These ecosystems are characterized by the unique ability to accumulate and store dead organic matter from Sphagnum and many other non-moss species, as peat, under conditions of almost permanent water saturation. Peatlands are adapted to the extreme conditions of high water and low oxygen content, of toxic elements and low availability of plant nutrients. Their water chemistry varies from alkaline to acidic. Peatlands occur on all continents, from the tropical to boreal and Arctic zones from sea level to high alpine conditions.

PEATMAP is a GIS shapefile dataset that shows a distribution of peatlands that covers the entire world PEATMAP.jpg
PEATMAP is a GIS shapefile dataset that shows a distribution of peatlands that covers the entire world

A more recent estimate from an improved global peatland map, PEATMAP, [24] based on a meta-analysis of geospatial information at global, regional and national levels puts global coverage slightly higher than earlier peatland inventories at 4.23 million square kilometres (1.63 million square miles) approximately 2.84% of the world land area. [25] In Europe, peatlands extend to about 515,000 km2 (199,000 sq mi). [26] About 60% of the world's wetlands are made of peat.

Peat deposits are found in many places around the world, including northern Europe and North America. The North American peat deposits are principally found in Canada and the Northern United States. Some of the world's largest peatlands include the West Siberian Lowland, the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and the Mackenzie River Valley. [27] There is less peat in the Southern Hemisphere, in part because there is less land. The world's largest tropical peatland is located in Africa (the Democratic Republic of Congo). [28] In addition, the vast Magellanic Moorland in South America (Southern Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego) is an extensive peat-dominated landscape. [27] Peat can be found in New Zealand, Kerguelen, the Falkland Islands, and Indonesia (Kalimantan [Sungai Putri, Danau Siawan, Sungai Tolak], Rasau Jaya (West Kalimantan), and Sumatra). Indonesia has more tropical peatlands and mangrove forests than any other nation on earth, but Indonesia is losing wetlands by 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) per year. [29] A catalog of the peat research collection at the University of Minnesota Duluth provides references to research on worldwide peat and peatlands. [30]

About 7% of all peatlands have been exploited for agriculture and forestry. [31] Under certain conditions, peat will turn into lignite coal over geologic periods of time.

General uses


Peat fire Feu de tourbe.JPG
Peat fire

Peat can be used as fuel once dried. Traditionally, peat is cut by hand and left to dry in the sun. In many countries, including Ireland and Scotland, peat was traditionally stacked to dry in rural areas and used for cooking and domestic heating. This tradition can be traced back to the Roman period. [32] For industrial uses,[ citation needed ] companies may use pressure to extract water from the peat, which is soft and easily compressed.


Worked bank in blanket bog, near Ulsta, Yell, Shetland Islands Peatcuttingulsta.jpg
Worked bank in blanket bog, near Ulsta, Yell, Shetland Islands

In Sweden, farmers use dried peat to absorb excrement from cattle that are wintered indoors.[ citation needed ] The most important property of peat is retaining moisture in container soil when it is dry while preventing the excess of water from killing roots when it is wet. Peat can store nutrients although it is not fertile itself – it is polyelectrolytic with a high ion-exchange capacity due to its oxidized lignin.[ citation needed ] Peat is discouraged as a soil amendment by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England, since 2003. [33] Whilst bark or coir-based peat-free potting soil mixes are on the rise, particularly in the UK, peat is still used as raw material for horticulture in some other European countries, Canada, as well as parts of the United States.

Drinking water

Peatland can also be an important source of drinking water providing nearly 4% of all potable water stored in reservoirs. In the UK, 43% of the population receives drinking water sourced from peatlands, with the number climbing to 68% in Ireland. Catchments containing peatlands are the main source of water for large cities, including Dublin. [34]

Falkland Islanders shovelling peat in the 1950s Shovel-Falklands.jpg
Falkland Islanders shovelling peat in the 1950s


Peat wetlands also used to have a degree of metallurgical importance in the Early Middle Ages, being the primary source of bog iron used to create swords and armour.

Flood mitigation

Many peat swamps along the coast of Malaysia serve as a natural means of flood mitigation, with any overflow being absorbed by the peat, provided forests are still present to prevent peat fires. [35] [36]

Freshwater aquaria

Peat is sometimes used in freshwater aquaria. It is seen most commonly in soft water or blackwater river systems such as those mimicking the Amazon River basin. In addition to being soft in texture and therefore suitable for demersal (bottom-dwelling) species such as Corydoras catfish, peat is reported to have a number of other beneficial functions in freshwater aquaria. It softens water by acting as an ion exchanger; it also contains substances that are beneficial for plants, and for the reproductive health of fishes. Peat can prevent algae growth and kill microorganisms. Peat often stains the water yellow or brown due to the leaching of tannins. [37]


Peat is widely used in balneotherapy (the use of bathing to treat disease). [38] Many traditional spa treatments include peat as part of peloids. Such health treatments have an enduring tradition in European countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. Some of these old spas date back to the 18th century and are still active today. The most common types of peat application in balneotherapy are peat muds, poultices, and suspension baths. [39]

Peat archives

Authors Rydin and Jeglum in Biology of Habitats described the concept of peat archives, a phrase coined by influential peatland scientist Harry Godwin in 1981. [40] [41] [42]

In a peat profile there is a fossilized record of changes over time in the vegetation, pollen, spores, animals (from microscopic to the giant elk), and archaeological remains that have been deposited in place, as well as pollen, spores and particles brought in by wind and weather. These remains are collectively termed the peat archives.

Rydin, 2013

In Quaternary Palaeoecology, first published in 1980, Birks and Birks described how paleoecological studies "of peat can be used to reveal what plant communities were present (locally and regionally), what time period each community occupied, how environmental conditions changed, and how the environment affected the ecosystem in that time and place." [41] [43]

Scientists continue to compare modern mercury (Hg) accumulation rates in bogs with historical natural-archives records in peat bogs and lake sediments to estimate the potential human impacts on the biogeochemical cycle of mercury, for example. [44] Over the years, different dating models and technologies for measuring date sediments and peat profiles accumulated over the last 100–150 years, have been used, including the widely used vertical distribution of 210Pb, the inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-SMS), [45] and more recently the initial penetration (IP). [46]

Bog bodies

Naturally mummified human bodies, often called "bog bodies" have been found in various places in Scotland, England, Ireland, and especially northern Germany and Denmark. They are almost perfectly preserved by the tanning properties of the acidic water, as well as by the antibiotic properties of the organic component sphagnan. [47] A famous example is the Tollund Man in Denmark. Having been discovered in 1950 after being mistaken for a recent murder victim, he was exhumed for scientific purposes and dated to have lived during the 4th century BC. Prior to that, another bog body, the Elling Woman, had been discovered in 1938 in the same bog about 60 m (200 ft) from the Tollund Man. She is believed to have lived during the late 3rd century BC and was a ritual sacrifice. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, people used peat bogs for rituals to nature gods and spirits. [48]

Environmental and ecological issues

Increase, and change relative to previous year, of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide.
Increase, and change relative to previous year, of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide.

The distinctive ecological conditions of peat wetlands provide a habitat for distinctive fauna and flora. For example, whooping cranes nest in North American peatlands, whilst Siberian cranes nest in the West Siberian peatland. Palsa mires have a rich bird life and are an EU-red listed habitat, [49] and in Canada riparian peat banks are used as maternity sites for polar bears. [50] Natural peatlands also have many species of wild orchids and carnivorous plants. For more on biological communities, see wetland, bog or fen.

Around half of the area of northern peatlands is permafrost-affected, and this area represents around a tenth of the total permafrost area, and also a tenth (185 ± 66 Gt) of all permafrost carbon, equivalent to around half of the carbon stored in the atmosphere. [51] [52] [53] Dry peat is a good insulator (with a thermal conductivity of around 0.25 Wm−1K−1) and therefore plays an important role in protecting permafrost from thaw. [54] The insulating effect of dry peat also makes it integral to unique permafrost landforms such as palsas and permafrost peat plateaus. [55] [52] [53] Peatland permafrost thaw tends to result in an increase in methane emissions and a small increase in carbon dioxide uptake, meaning that it contributes to the permafrost carbon feedback. [56] [57] [58] Under 2 °C global warming, 0.7 million km2 of peatland permafrost could thaw, and with warming of +1.5 to 6 °C a cumulative 0.7 to 3 PgC of methane could be released as a result of permafrost peatland thaw by 2100. [51] The forcing from these potential emissions would be approximately equivalent to 1% of projected anthropogenic emissions.

One characteristic of peat is the bioaccumulation of metals concentrated in the peat. Accumulated mercury is of significant environmental concern. [59]

Peat drainage

Large areas of organic wetland (peat) soils are currently drained for agriculture, forestry, and peat extraction (i.e. through canals [60] ). This process is taking place all over the world. This not only destroys the habitat of many species but also heavily fuels climate change. [61] As a result of peat drainage, the organic carbon – which built over thousands of years and is normally underwater – is suddenly exposed to the air. It decomposes and turns into carbon dioxide (CO2), which is released into the atmosphere. [62] The global CO2 emissions from drained peatlands have increased from 1,058 Mton in 1990 to 1,298 Mton in 2008 (a 20% increase). This increase has particularly taken place in developing countries, of which Indonesia, 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 second-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 2.0 Gtons (including emissions from peat fires) which is almost 6% of all global carbon emissions. [63] [ obsolete source ]

Peat fires

Smoke and ozone pollution from Indonesian fires, 1997 TOMS indonesia smog lrg.jpg
Smoke and ozone pollution from Indonesian fires, 1997

Peat can be a major fire hazard and is not extinguished by light rain. [64] Peat fires may burn for great lengths of time, or smoulder underground and reignite after winter if an oxygen source is present.

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 smoulders. These smouldering 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.

Despite the damage that the burning of raw peat can cause, bogs are naturally subject to wildfires and depend on the wildfires to keep woody competition from lowering the water table and shading out many bog plants. Several families of plants including the carnivorous Sarracenia (trumpet pitcher), Dionaea (Venus flytrap), Utricularia (bladderworts) and non-carnivorous plants such as the sandhills lily, toothache grass and many species of orchid are now threatened and in some cases endangered from the combined forces of human drainage, negligence, and absence of fire. [65] [66] [67]

The recent burning of peat bogs in Indonesia, with their large and deep growths containing more than 50 billion tonnes (55 billion short tons; 49 billion long tons) of carbon, has contributed to increases in world carbon dioxide levels. [68] Peat deposits in Southeast Asia could be destroyed by 2040. [69] [70]

It is estimated that in 1997, peat and forest fires in Indonesia released between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatonnes (0.89 and 2.83 billion short tons; 0.80 and 2.53 billion long tons) 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. [71] [72] More than 100 peat fires in Kalimantan and East Sumatra have continued to burn since 1997; each year, these peat fires ignite new forest fires above the ground.

In North America, peat fires can occur during severe droughts throughout their occurrence, from boreal forests in Canada to swamps and fens in the subtropical southern Florida Everglades. [73] Once a fire has burnt through the area, hollows in the peat are burnt out, and hummocks are desiccated but can contribute to Sphagnum recolonization. [74]

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 and covering the capital of Moscow with a toxic smoke blanket. The situation remained critical until the end of August 2010. [75] [76]

In June 2019, despite some forest fire prevention methods being put in place, peat fires [77] in the Arctic emitted 50 megatonnes (55 million short tons; 49 million long tons) of CO2, which is equal to Sweden's total annual emissions. [78] The peat fires are linked to climate change, as they are much more likely to occur nowadays due to this effect. [79] [80]

Peat hags at the start of Allt Lagan a' Bhainne tributary on Eilrig Peat haggs at start of Allt Lagan a' Bhainne tributary on Eilrig - - 1420692.jpg
Peat hags at the start of Allt Lagan a' Bhainne tributary on Eilrig

Erosion: Peat hags

Peat "hags" are a form of erosion that occurs at the sides of gullies that cut into the peat or, sometimes in isolation. [81] Hags may result when flowing water cuts downwards into the peat and when fire or overgrazing exposes the peat surface. Once the peat is exposed in these ways, it is prone to further erosion by wind, water, and livestock. The result is overhanging vegetation and peat. Hags are too steep and unstable for vegetation to establish itself, so they continue to erode unless restorative action is taken. [81]


The United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity highlights peatlands as key ecosystems to be conserved and protected. The convention requires governments at all levels to present action plans for the conservation and management of wetland environments. Wetlands are also protected under the 1971 Ramsar Convention. [82]

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, and brings together the efforts of various non-government organisations.

In November 2002, the International Peatland (formerly Peat) Society (IPS) 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 IPS published the book Peatlands and Climate Change, summarising the currently available knowledge on the topic. In 2010, IPS presented a "Strategy for Responsible Peatland Management", which can be applied worldwide for decision-making.


Often, restoration is done by blocking drainage channels in the peatland, and allowing natural vegetation to recover. [83] Rehabilitation projects undertaken in North America and Europe usually focus on the rewetting of peatlands and revegetation of native species. This acts to mitigate carbon release in the short term before the new growth of vegetation provides a new source of organic litter to fuel the peat formation in the long term. [82] UNEP is supporting peatland restoration in Indonesia. [84]

Characteristics and uses by nation


Kemeri bog at sunset Kemeru purva laipa.jpg
Ķemeri bog at sunset

Latvia has been the biggest exporter of peat in the world by volume providing more than 19.9% of the world's volume followed only by Canada with 13% in 2022. [85] In 2020, Latvia exported 1.97 million tons of peat, followed by Germany with 1.5 and Canada with 1.42 million tons. [86] Nevertheless, although first in the world by volume, in monetary terms, Latvian comes second in the world behind Canada. As an example, Latvia's income from exports was 237 million US dollars. [86]

Latvia's peat deposits have been estimated to equal 1.7 billion tons. [87] Latvia, as Finland due its climate has several peat bogs, which account for 9.9% of the country's territory. [88]

More than two thirds of the licensed areas for peat extraction are state-owned; 55% belong to the state whilst 23% belong to the municipalities [89]

Bogs in Latvia are considered important habitant due their ecological values and up to 128 thousand hectares or 40% of the areas in the territory are protected by environmental laws. [89] The most famous national parks and reserves are the Ķemeri National Park, Cenas tīrelis and Teiči Nature Reserve.


The Toppila Power Station, a peat-fired facility in Oulu, Finland Toppila power plant.JPG
The Toppila Power Station, a peat-fired facility in Oulu, Finland

The climate, geography, and environment of Finland favours bog and peat bog formation. Thus, peat is available in considerable quantities. It is burned to produce heat and electricity. Peat provides around 4% of Finland's annual energy production. [90]

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. This leads to lower levels of CO2 storage than the original peat bog.

At 106 g CO2/MJ, [91] the carbon dioxide emissions of peat are higher than those of coal (at 94.6 g CO2/MJ) and natural gas (at 56.1). 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. That said, little effort is being made to achieve this. [92]

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. A proposal for a Finnish peatland management strategy was presented to the government in 2011, after a lengthy consultation phase. [93]


Peat layer showing the typical dark colour of rich organic matter soils. Peat (49302157252).jpg
Peat layer showing the typical dark colour of rich organic matter soils.

About 15% of the land in Sweden is covered by peatlands. [94] Whilst nowadays the main use of such soils is for forestry, peat-rich lands have historically been exploited to produce energy, agricultural land and horticultural substrates. [94] The most common method to extract peat during the 19th and 20th centuries was peat cutting, a process where the land is cleared of forest and subsequentially drained. [94] Peat cores are then extracted under dry weather conditions and stored on stacks to let the residual moisture evaporate. [94] Today, clear cutting for horticultural peat (of which Sweden is an important producer in Europe) is limited to some areas of Sweden and strictly regulated by the Swedish Environmental Code to prevent that significant groundwater storages and carbon sinks areas are altered and compromised by human activities. [94] At the same time, restoration of drained peatlands through rewetting is urged by national and international policies to exploit the peat-rich soil properties in mitigating climate change effects. [95]


Industrial-milled peat production in a section of the Bog of Allen in the Irish Midlands: The 'turf' in the foreground is machine-produced for domestic use. BordnaMona 2930.jpg
Industrial-milled peat production in a section of the Bog of Allen in the Irish Midlands: The 'turf' in the foreground is machine-produced for domestic use.

In the Republic of Ireland, a state-owned company called Bord na Móna was responsible for managing peat extraction. It processed the extracted peat into milled peat which was used in power stations and sold processed peat fuel in the form of peat briquettes which are used for domestic heating. These are oblong bars of densely compressed, dried, and shredded peat. Peat moss is a manufactured product for use in garden cultivation. Turf (dried out peat sods) is also commonly used in rural areas.[ citation needed ]

In January 2021 Bord na Móna announced that it had ceased all peat harvesting and cutting operations and would be moving its business to a climate solutions company. [96]

In 2022 the sale of peat for burning was prohibited, but some people are still allowed to cut and burn it. [97]


Shatura Power Station. Russia has the largest peat power capacity in the world Shatura steam power plant (2010).jpg
Shatura Power Station. Russia has the largest peat power capacity in the world
The Bor Peat Briquette Factory, Russia Peat Briquette Factory.jpg
The Bor Peat Briquette Factory, Russia

Use of peat for energy production was prominent in the Soviet Union, especially in 1965. 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 and mining purposes. [98]


Peat covered area (brown) 2,500 years ago in the Netherlands 500vc ex leg copy.jpg
Peat covered area (brown) 2,500 years ago in the Netherlands

2,500 years ago, the area now named the Netherlands was largely covered with peat. Drainage, causing compaction and oxidation and excavation have reduced peatlands (>40 cm (16 in) peat) to about 2,733 km2 (1,055 sq mi) [99] or 10% of the land area, mostly used as meadows. Drainage and excavation have lowered the surface of the peatlands. In the west of the country dikes and mills were built, creating polders so that dwelling and economic activities could continue below sea level, the first polder probably in 1533 [100] and the last one in 1968. Harvesting of peat could continue in suitable locations as the lower peat layers below current sea level became exposed. This peat was deposited before the rise of the sea level in the Holocene. As a result, approximately 26% of the area [101] and 21% of the population [102] of the Netherlands are presently below sea level. The deepest point is in the Zuidplaspolder, 6.76 m (22.2 ft) below average sea level.

The Netherlands compared to sealevel The Netherlands compared to sealevel.png
The Netherlands compared to sealevel

In 2020, the Netherlands imported 2,156 million kg of peat (5.39 million m3 (400 kg/m3 dry peat) [103] ): 44.5% from Germany (2020), 9.5% from Estonia (2018), 9.2% from Latvia (2020), 7.2% from Ireland (2018), 8.0% from Sweden (2019), 6.5% from Lithuania (2020), 5.1% from Belgium (2019) and 1.7% from Denmark (2019)); 1,35 million kg was exported. [104] Most is used in gardening and greenhouse horticulture.

Since the Netherlands did not have many trees to use as firewood or charcoal, one use the Dutch made of the available peat was to fire kilns to make pottery. [105] During World War II, the Dutch Resistance came up with an unusual use for peat. Since peat was so available in the fields, resistance fighters sometimes stacked peat into human-sized piles and used the piles for target practice. [106]


After oil shale in Estonia, peat is the second most mined natural resource. [107] The peat production sector has a yearly revenue of around €100 million and it is mostly export-oriented.[ citation needed ] Peat is extracted from around 14 thousand hectares (35,000 acres). [108]



The mountains of the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau contains pockets of high-altitude wetlands. [109] Khecheopalri is one of the Sikkim's most famous and diverse peatlands in the eastern Indian territory of Sikkim, which includes 682 species representing 5 kingdoms, 196 families, and 453 genera. [110]

United Kingdom


England has around 1 million acres of peatland. Peatland in England store 584m tonnes of carbon in total but emit around 11m tonnes of CO2 every year due to degradation and draining. In 2021 only 124 people owned 60% of England's peat land. [111]

The extraction of peat from the Somerset Levels began during the Roman times and has been carried out since the Levels were first drained. [112] On Dartmoor, there were several commercial distillation plants formed and run by the British Patent Naphtha Company in 1844. These produced naphtha on a commercial scale from the high-quality local peat. [113]

Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses is an element of a post-Ice Age peat bog that straddles the England–Wales border and contains many rare plant and animal species due to the acidic environment created by the peat. [114] Only lightly hand-dug, it is now a national nature reserve and is being restored to its natural condition.

Industrial extraction of peat occurred at the Thorne Moor site, outside Doncaster near to the village of Hatfield. Government policy incentivised commercial removal to peat for agricultural use. This caused much destruction of the area during the 1980s. The removal of the peat resulted in later flooding further downstream at Goole due to the loss of water retaining peatlands. [115] Recently regeneration of peatland has occurred as part of the Thorne Moors project, and at Fleet Moss, organised by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. [116]

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, there is small-scale domestic turf cutting in rural areas, but areas of bogs have been diminished because of changes in agriculture. In response, afforestation has seen the establishment of tentative steps towards conservation such as Peatlands Park, County Armagh which is an Area of Special Scientific Interest. [117]


A peat stack in Ness on the Isle of Lewis (Scotland) Peat-Stack in Ness, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.jpg
A peat stack in Ness on the Isle of Lewis (Scotland)

Some Scotch whisky distilleries, such as those on Islay, use peat fires to dry malted barley. The drying process takes about 30 hours. This gives the whiskies a distinctive smoky flavour, often called "peatiness". [118] [ better source needed ] The peatiness, or degree of peat flavour, of a whisky, is calculated in ppm of phenol. Normal Highland whiskies have a peat level of up to 30 ppm, and the whiskies on Islay usually have up to 50 ppm. In rare types like the Octomore, [119] the whisky can have more than 100 ppm of phenol. Scotch Ales can also use peat roasted malt, imparting a similar smoked flavor.

Because they are easily compressed under minimal weight, peat deposits pose major difficulties to builders of structures, roads, and railways. When the West Highland railway line was built across Rannoch Moor in western Scotland, its builders had to float the tracks on a multi-thousand-ton mattress of tree roots, brushwood, earth and ash.


Wales has over 70,000 hectares of peatlands. Most of it is blanket peat bog in the highlands, but there are a few hundred hectares of peatland in lowland areas. [120] Some peatland areas in Wales are in poor condition. In 2020, the Welsh Government established a five-year peatland restoration initiative, which will be implemented by Natural Resources Wales (NRW). [121]


There are 294 million acres of peatland in Canada, with approximately 43,500 acres in poduction with another 34,500 acres involved in past production, the current and past acrage in production amounts to 0.03 percent of Canada's peatland. [122] Canada is the top exporter of peat by value. In 2021, top exporters of peat (including peat litter), whether or not agglomerated, were Canada ($580,591.39K, 1,643,950,000 kg), European Union ($445,304.42K, 2,362,280,000 kg), Latvia ($275,459.14K, 2,184,860,000 kg), Netherlands ($235,250.84K, 1,312,850,000 kg), Germany ($223,414.66K, 1,721,170,000 kg). [123]

See also

Atchafalaya Basin.jpg  Wetlandsportal


  1. See bog for more information on this aspect of peat.
  2. Supported by the "Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) under the Global Peatland Initiative Archived 2008-11-20 at the Wayback Machine , managed by Wetlands International in co-operation with the IUCN – Netherlands Committee, Alterra, the International Mire Conservation Group and the International Peatland Society."

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wetland</span> Land area that is permanently, or seasonally saturated with water

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded or saturated by water, either permanently for years or decades or seasonally for a shorter periods. Flooding results in oxygen-free anoxic processes prevailing, especially in the soils. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from terrestrial land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique anoxic hydric soils. Wetlands are considered among the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as home to a wide range of plant and animal species. Methods for assessing wetland functions, wetland ecological health, and general wetland condition have been developed for many regions of the world. These methods have contributed to wetland conservation partly by raising public awareness of the functions some wetlands provide. Constructed wetlands are designed and built to treat municipal and industrial wastewater as well as to divert stormwater runoff. Constructed wetlands may also play a role in water-sensitive urban design.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fen</span> Type of wetland fed by mineral-rich ground or surface water

A fen is a type of peat-accumulating wetland fed by mineral-rich ground or surface water. It is one of the main types of wetlands along with marshes, swamps, and bogs. Bogs and fens, both peat-forming ecosystems, are also known as mires. The unique water chemistry of fens is a result of the ground or surface water input. Typically, this input results in higher mineral concentrations and a more basic pH than found in bogs. As peat accumulates in a fen, groundwater input can be reduced or cut off, making the fen ombrotrophic rather than minerotrophic. In this way, fens can become more acidic and transition to bogs over time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bog</span> Type of wetland with peat-rich soil

A bog or bogland is a wetland that accumulates peat as a deposit of dead plant materials – often mosses, typically sphagnum moss. It is one of the four main types of wetlands. Other names for bogs include mire, mosses, quagmire, and muskeg; alkaline mires are called fens. A bayhead is another type of bog found in the forest of the Gulf Coast states in the United States. They are often covered in heath or heather shrubs rooted in the sphagnum moss and peat. The gradual accumulation of decayed plant material in a bog functions as a carbon sink.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marsh</span> Low-lying and seasonally waterlogged land

A marsh is — according to ecological definitions — a wetland that is dominated by herbaceous rather than woody plant species. More in general, the word can be used for any low-lying and seasonally waterlogged terrain. In Europe and in agricultural literature low-lying meadows that require draining and embanked polderlands are also referred to as marshes or marshland.

<i>Sphagnum</i> Genus of mosses, peat moss

Sphagnum is a genus of approximately 380 accepted species of mosses, commonly known as sphagnum moss, also bog moss and quacker moss. Accumulations of Sphagnum can store water, since both living and dead plants can hold large quantities of water inside their cells; plants may hold 16 to 26 times as much water as their dry weight, depending on the species. The empty cells help retain water in drier conditions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peat swamp forest</span> Tropical moist forests where waterlogged soil prevents dead leaves and wood from fully decomposing

Peat swamp forests are tropical moist forests where waterlogged soil prevents dead leaves and wood from fully decomposing. Over time, this creates a thick layer of acidic peat. Large areas of these forests are being logged at high rates.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carbon sequestration</span> Storing carbon in a carbon pool (natural as well as enhanced or artificial processes)

Carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon in a carbon pool. It plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There are two main types of carbon sequestration: biologic and geologic. Biologic carbon sequestration is a naturally occurring process as part of the carbon cycle. Humans can enhance it through deliberate actions and use of technology. Carbon dioxide is naturally captured from the atmosphere through biological, chemical, and physical processes. These processes can be accelerated for example through changes in land use and agricultural practices, called carbon farming. Artificial processes have also been devised to produce similar effects. This approach is called carbon capture and storage. It involves using technology to capture and sequester (store) CO
that is produced from human activities underground or under the sea bed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Borneo peat swamp forests</span> Ecoregion in Borneo

The Borneo peat swamp forests ecoregion, within the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests biome, are on the island of Borneo, which is divided between Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blanket bog</span> Area of peatland

Blanket bog or blanket mire, also known as featherbed bog, is an area of peatland, forming where there is a climate of high rainfall and a low level of evapotranspiration, allowing peat to develop not only in wet hollows but over large expanses of undulating ground. The blanketing of the ground with a variable depth of peat gives the habitat type its name. Blanket bogs are found extensively throughout the northern hemisphere - well-studied examples are found in Ireland and Scotland, but vast areas of North American tundra also qualify as blanket bogs. In Europe, the southernmost edge of range of this habitat has been recently mapped in the Cantabrian Mountains, northern Spain, but the current distribution of blanket bogs globally remains unknown.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palsa</span> A low, often oval, frost heave occurring in polar and subpolar climates

Palsas are peat mounds with a permanently frozen peat and mineral soil core. They are a typical phenomenon in the polar and subpolar zone of discontinuous permafrost. One of their characteristics is having steep slopes that rise above the mire surface. This leads to the accumulation of large amounts of snow around them. The summits of the palsas are free of snow even in winter, because the wind carries the snow and deposits on the slopes and elsewhere on the flat mire surface. Palsas can be up to 150 m in diameter and can reach a height of 12 m.

<i>Aulacomnium palustre</i> Species of moss

Aulacomnium palustre, the bog groove-moss or ribbed bog moss, is a moss that is nearly cosmopolitan in distribution. It occurs in North America, Hispaniola, Venezuela, Eurasia, and New Zealand. In North America, it occurs across southern arctic, subboreal, and boreal regions from Alaska and British Columbia to Greenland and Quebec. Documentation of ribbed bog moss's distribution in the contiguous United States is probably incomplete. It is reported sporadically south to Washington, Wyoming, Georgia, and Virginia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arctic methane emissions</span> Release of methane from seas and soils in permafrost regions of the Arctic

Arctic methane release is the release of methane from Arctic ocean waters as well as from soils in permafrost regions of the Arctic. While it is a long-term natural process, methane release is exacerbated by global warming. This results in a positive climate change feedback, as methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. The Arctic region is one of many natural sources of methane. Climate change could accelerate methane release in the Arctic, due to the release of methane from existing stores, and from methanogenesis in rotting biomass. When permafrost thaws as a consequence of warming, large amounts of organic material can become available for methanogenesis and may ultimately be released as methane.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climate change feedbacks</span> Feedback related to climate change

Climate change feedbacks are effects of global warming that amplify or diminish the effect of forces that initially cause the warming. Positive feedbacks enhance global warming while negative feedbacks weaken it. Feedbacks are important in the understanding of climate change because they play an important part in determining the sensitivity of the climate to warming forces. Climate forcings and feedbacks together determine how much and how fast the climate changes. Large positive feedbacks can lead to tipping points—abrupt or irreversible changes in the climate system—depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Permafrost carbon cycle</span> Sub-cycle of the larger global carbon cycle

The permafrost carbon cycle or Arctic carbon cycle is a sub-cycle of the larger global carbon cycle. Permafrost is defined as subsurface material that remains below 0o C for at least two consecutive years. Because permafrost soils remain frozen for long periods of time, they store large amounts of carbon and other nutrients within their frozen framework during that time. Permafrost represents a large carbon reservoir, one which was often neglected in the initial research determining global terrestrial carbon reservoirs. Since the start of the 2000s, however, far more attention has been paid to the subject, with an enormous growth both in general attention and in the scientific research output.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands</span> Source of gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands of concern consist primarily of methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Wetlands are the largest natural source of atmospheric methane in the world, and are therefore a major area of concern with respect to climate change. Wetlands account for approximately 20–30% of atmospheric methane through emissions from soils and plants, and contribute an approximate average of 161 Tg of methane to the atmosphere per year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peatland</span> Wetland terrain without forest cover, dominated by living, peat-forming plants

A peatland is a type of wetland whose soils consist of organic matter from decaying plants, forming layers of peat. Peatlands arise because of incomplete decomposition of organic matter, usually litter from vegetation, due to water-logging and subsequent anoxia. Like coral reefs, peatlands are unusual landforms that derive mostly from biological rather than physical processes, and can take on characteristic shapes and surface patterning.

Paludiculture is wet agriculture and forestry on peatlands. Paludiculture combines the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from drained peatlands through rewetting with continued land use and biomass production under wet conditions. “Paludi” comes from the Latin “palus” meaning “swamp, morass” and "paludiculture" as a concept was developed at Greifswald University. Paludiculture is a sustainable alternative to drainage-based agriculture, intended to maintain carbon storage in peatlands. This differentiates paludiculture from agriculture like rice paddies, which involve draining, and therefore degrading wetlands.

Jill L. Bubier is a professor emerita of environmental science at Mount Holyoke College (MHC). Her research examines how Northern ecosystems respond to climate change.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peatland restoration</span> Peatland restoration

Peatland restoration is a term describing measures to restore the original form and function of peatlands, or wet peat-rich areas. This landscape globally occupies 400 million hectares or 3% of land surface on Earth. Historically, peatlands have been drained for several main reasons; peat extraction, creation of agricultural land, and forestry usage. However, this activity has caused degradation affecting this landscape's structure through damage to habitats, hydrology, nutrients cycle, carbon balance and more.


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