Amazonian peatlands: A potentially important but poorly characterised source of atmospheric methane and nitrous oxide

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Inst of Biological and Environmental Sci


Tropical peatlands are spatially extensive and biogeochemically dynamic environments that play a critical role in the cycling of greenhouse gases between the biosphere and atmosphere. However, we have relatively few ground-based measurements of greenhouse gas exchange from these ecosystems, as attention has largely focussed on fluxes from terra firme forests, savannas and seasonally flooded environments. The few observations that do exist originate from Indonesia and the Malay Archipelago, with little or no data available from lowland Amazonia. This makes it difficult to accurately assess the relative contribution of Amazonian peatlands for regional or global greenhouse gas budgets, or to predict how emissions from these environments are likely to change due to climate forcing or anthropogenic intervention. We propose conducting some of the first pilot measurements of methane and nitrous oxide fluxes from Amazonian peatlands, in order to begin exploring the significance of these ecosystems for regional and global atmospheric budgets. We will also explore the relationships between trace gas fluxes and key biophysical drivers (e.g. peat depth, water table depth, soil moisture, temperature, etc.), which will help us to better understand how methane and nitrous oxide fluxes are influenced by ecological processes and environmental conditions. These process-based data will allow us to predict the likely outcome of future environmental change or human disturbance, and will be useful for future modelling efforts. This research is important and timely because of ongoing debates over the relative importance of tropical peatlands for current and future climate change. The need for studies like this are particularly acute for regions like the Amazon Basin, because of the rapid pace of development and land use change, which may trigger enhanced carbon losses, greenhouse gas emissions and habitat degradation, all of which may act as a positive feedback to climate change.
Description Tropical freshwater peatlands in the Western Amazon Basin are large atmospheric sources of methane and weak sources of nitrous oxide. Methane and nitrous oxide fluxes were spatially and temporally heterogeneous, reflecting natural variations in key environmental variables such as soil moisture/water table depth and redox potential. Methane fluxes from these ecosystems showed marked seasonality, with divergent seasonal patterns among ecosystems. Forested vegetation and mixed palm swamp showed significantly higher dry season compared to wet season emissions. In contrast, forested (short pole) vegetation and M. flexuosa palm swamp showed the opposite trend.
Exploitation Route This work lays the foundation for larger-scale and more integrative studies of methane and nitrous oxide cycling across freshwater peatlands across the wider Amazon Basin region as a whole, and will lead to substantially improved bottom-up estimates of the regional contribution of these ecosystems to atmospheric budgets of greenhouse gases.
Sectors Environment

Description FACCE-ERA-NET+ on Climate Smart Agriculture
Amount £1,700,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 618105 
Organisation European Commission 
Department Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 12/2014 
End 11/2017
Description Malaysia Palm Oil Board Research Grant
Amount RM6,520,000 (MYR)
Organisation Malaysian Palm Oil Board 
Sector Public
Country Malaysia
Start 06/2014 
End 06/2017
Description "Implications of methane and nitrous oxide exchange for ecosystem global warming potential" at the Malaysian Palm Oil Board in Kuala Lumpur. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation led to in-depth discussion and planning for collaborative research.

The talk contributed to a successful funding bid from the Malaysia Palm Oil Board.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Guest speaker at United World College of Southeast Asia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Guest speaker. Gave a talk titled "Day in the life of a tropical ecologist".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Presentation at the European Geosciences Union annual meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Poster presentation entitled "Temporal variability in methane fluxes from tropical peatlands within the Peruvian Amazon," for which I was senior author. More than 100 conference attendees visited the poster, and this presentation sparked discussion and wider scientific interest in the study region.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016