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Glob Chang Biol. 2016 Dec;22(12):4134-4149. doi: 10.1111/gcb.13303. Epub 2016 May 12.

High emissions of greenhouse gases from grasslands on peat and other organic soils.

Author information

Thünen Institute for Climate-Smart Agriculture, Bundesallee 50, 38116, Braunschweig, Germany.
Institute of Landscape Biogeochemistry, Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, Eberswalder Straße 84, 15374, Müncheberg, Germany.
Landscape Ecology and Site Evaluation, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Rostock, Justus-von-Liebig-Weg 6, 18059, Rostock, Germany.
State Authority for Mining, Energy and Geology Lower Saxony, Stilleweg 2, 30655, Hanover, Germany.
Chair of Vegetation Ecology, University of Applied Sciences Weihenstephan-Triesdorf, Am Hofgarten 4, 85354, Freising, Germany.
Institute for Geography, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Johann-Joachim-Becher-Weg 21, 55099, Mainz, Germany.
Chair of Restoration Ecology, Technische Universität München, Emil-Ramann-Str. 6, 85354, Freising, Germany.
Institute of Soil Science and Land Evaluation, University of Hohenheim, Emil-Wolff-Str. 27, 70593, Stuttgart, Germany.
Meo Carbon Solutions GmbH, Hohenzollernring 72, 50672, Köln, Germany.
Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Althanstr. 14, 1090, Vienna, Austria.
Institute of Soil Landscape Research, Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, Eberswalder Straße 84, 15374, Müncheberg, Germany.
Division of Soil Science and Site Science, Humboldt University zu Berlin, Albrecht-Thaer-Weg 2, 14195, Berlin, Germany.
State Authority for Mining, Geology and Resources Brandenburg, Inselstr. 26, 03046, Cottbus, Germany.


Drainage has turned peatlands from a carbon sink into one of the world's largest greenhouse gas (GHG) sources from cultivated soils. We analyzed a unique data set (12 peatlands, 48 sites and 122 annual budgets) of mainly unpublished GHG emissions from grasslands on bog and fen peat as well as other soils rich in soil organic carbon (SOC) in Germany. Emissions and environmental variables were measured with identical methods. Site-averaged GHG budgets were surprisingly variable (29.2 ± 17.4 t CO2 -eq. ha-1  yr-1 ) and partially higher than all published data and the IPCC default emission factors for GHG inventories. Generally, CO2 (27.7 ± 17.3 t CO2  ha-1  yr-1 ) dominated the GHG budget. Nitrous oxide (2.3 ± 2.4 kg N2 O-N ha-1  yr-1 ) and methane emissions (30.8 ± 69.8 kg CH4 -C ha-1  yr-1 ) were lower than expected except for CH4 emissions from nutrient-poor acidic sites. At single peatlands, CO2 emissions clearly increased with deeper mean water table depth (WTD), but there was no general dependency of CO2 on WTD for the complete data set. Thus, regionalization of CO2 emissions by WTD only will remain uncertain. WTD dynamics explained some of the differences between peatlands as sites which became very dry during summer showed lower emissions. We introduced the aerated nitrogen stock (Nair ) as a variable combining soil nitrogen stocks with WTD. CO2 increased with Nair across peatlands. Soils with comparatively low SOC concentrations showed as high CO2 emissions as true peat soils because Nair was similar. N2 O emissions were controlled by the WTD dynamics and the nitrogen content of the topsoil. CH4 emissions can be well described by WTD and ponding duration during summer. Our results can help both to improve GHG emission reporting and to prioritize and plan emission reduction measures for peat and similar soils at different scales.


Kyoto Protocol; carbon dioxide; grassland management; methane; nitrous oxide; water table depth

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