Components of the PeatMotherShip Project

Using an integrated combination of ground and Earth observations, empirical analysis and process modelling, the project aims to answer the following questions:

Q1. Will climate change amplify the impacts of drainage and land use conversion on peatland C dynamics, through reduced resilience and/or altered system thresholds in response to drivers?

Q2. Will future potential peatland vegetation ranges by 2100 remain matched to the current distribution of peat soils? I.e., can management practices produce long-term resilient peatlands?

Q3. Can we identify locations of future climate refugia through improved understanding of the combined effects of topography and land management on ecohydrological functioning?

Q4. What are the combinations of climate conditions and management that could lead to catastrophic future loss of European peatlands?

Q5. Can spatially targeted peatland management, inclusive of rewetting efforts, allow us to reach net zero by 2050, and can catastrophic loss of C be avoided and secured through to 2100?

First, we assess the joint impacts of historic drainage/land use conversion and climatic variation on contemporary peatland functioning.

In WP1, we assess whether extreme climatic events offer consistent evidence of altered thresholds or reduced resilience on the carbon, energy and water dynamics of mires and rewetted peatlands, and whether extreme events alter rates of carbon loss in drained/ land-use converted peatlands, using a network of eddy covariance flux towers across the European temperate peatlands. Within this European network, we are also harmonising the peatland components of two existing UK monitoring networks, The UK Greenhouse Gases Flux network led by UKCEH and SCO2FLUX led by JHI.

WP2 assesses these impacts on vegetation phenology and soil surface moisture dynamics, using time series of Earth Observations, at the flux tower sites but also alongside a larger network of sites across the European temperate peatlands. We will specifically assess whether there are differences in system dynamics between sites in core bioclimatic regions and those at the margins. To aid this, we will further develop an existing bioclimatic envelope model (BEM), PeatStash, to capture the core and margins of blanket bog climatic distribution.

 WP3 evaluates the joint impacts of climatic variation and historic land use on peatland surface motion, as an integrator of peatland functioning, using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (inSAR), and focussing on 15 exemplar flux tower sites (or “golden” sites). For these golden sites, we also test the ability of a well-established ecosystem model, (DigiBog), to simulate millennial peatland development and contemporary functioning. 

Second, to simulate the future C stock and resilience of temperate European peatlands, we use a two-pronged approach. For the golden sites, we will use DigiBog because it can already represent topographical and geological controls on peatland development, such as the accumulation of water flows in hillslope hollows and peat properties such as permeability that have an autogenic influence on peatland functioning. This will enable us to model climate refugia.  At larger spatial scales, we need to understand how peatland processes (e.g., water-table dynamics, rate of C accumulation, CH4 fluxes) scale from the resolution typically used in DigiBog (metres) or measured at flux sites (<1 km) to the resolutions used in Land surface models (LSM, km for UK and >0.5° globally). We will use DigiBog to establish parameter-scaling rules to ensure the coarse-scale outputs produce the same spatially averaged behaviour as the fine-scale representations.

In WP4 we will develop a new temperate peatland version of JULES. For training and validation, this new JULES-PEAT implementation will use the data and scaling rules from WP1-3. JULES-PEAT will close the gap in modelling the impacts of drainage and blanket peat occurrence that currently exists in LSMs and thus, the JULES-PEAT model will firmly place UK science in the global lead for the state-of-the art in accurate modelling of peatland occurrence and human impacts on their function and future fate.   

In WP5, a joint effort between UKCEH, Exeter and JHI, we will use JULES-PEAT to predict the fate of the UK and wider European peatland C store under future climate change and land use scenarios, the latter representing mitigation measures specific to UK and European peatlands. The model outcomes will be discussed with the policy community.

To ensure that we are at the forefront of the science, in WP6 enables knowledge exchange with the wider peatland LSM and ecosystem modelling community, and thus empower other researchers to benefit from the advances in understanding made in this project, through a series of development workshops and performance benchmarking using the Inter-sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison (ISIMIP) common evaluation framework. Through engagement with other land surface modelling teams internationally, we will produce a modular model structure that facilitates intercomparison of model components of existing peatland LSMs and also enables ensemble-based predictions of the impact of climate change or mitigation efforts on peatlands and, eventually, future feedbacks of such efforts on climate. Finally, we will bring together other JULES peatland developments on tropical and boreal peatlands into a single configuration to facilitate a global assessment of the future fate of peat C stocks.

The project, co-ordinated by JHI, will deliver both (i) standalone high impact outputs on contemporary C dynamics and resilience in temperate peatlands and (ii) modelled projections of the future fate of their C stocks. While the immediate aim of this project is to provide critical decision support to land managers and policy makers across the UK and European region, we also aim to put UK peatland science at the core of global peatland modelling.