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Why are peatlands so important?

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“Compared to other soils, peat is really carbon-dense,” explains environmental scientist Dr. Greta Dargie during an expedition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Peatlands only cover 3 percent of the Earth’s land surface but they account for more than a third of the carbon stock… I think that what we have here in the Congo is the largest tropical peatland complex in the world.”

In this National Geographic video by documentary filmmaker Rebecca Grossman and environmental journalist Daniel Grossman, Dargie and a field team make their way through the mucky wetlands. Their goal: Collect samples of the ecosystem’s peat—partially-decayed plant matter—that can be measured for carbon concentrations.

peatland samples
traveling by boat with the field team
What is peat and why are peatlands essential in the fight against climate change? From The Guardian:

“Peatlands are created when dead vegetation subsides, partially decayed and partially preserved, into waterlogged landscapes or when the water table rises, overtaking the vegetation. The organic material doesn’t fully degrade due to a lack of oxygen in the wetlands. It accumulates and compresses, trapping the carbon the living plants had captured from the air…

“Peatlands are the superheroes of ecosystems: purifying water, sometimes mitigating flooding and providing a home for rare species. And they beat nearly every system when it comes to carbon storage.”

walking through the wetlands
peat samples
A must-read illustrated report at The New York Times: Meet Peat, the Unsung Hero of Carbon Capture.

Also in Nature: How peat could protect the planet.

Watch these related carbon storage videos next:
Why are mangrove trees so important?
• How do bison help fight against climate change?
• The power of seaweed: How can kelp help capture carbon?
• How can nature be used as a tool to restore ecosystems?

Bonus: Dead stuff, the secret ingredient in our food chain.

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