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Peatlands are a large carbon reservoir. Yet the quantification of their carbon stock still has a large uncertainty due to lacking observational data and well‐tested peatland biogeochemistry models. Here, a process‐based peatland model was calibrated using long‐term peat carbon accumulation data at multiple sites in North America. The model was then applied to quantify the peat carbon accumulation rates and stocks within North America over the last 12,000 years. We estimated that 85–174 Pg carbon was accumulated in North American peatlands over the study period including 0.37–0.76 Pg carbon in subtropical peatlands. During the period from 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, the warmer and wetter conditions might have played an important role in stimulating peat carbon accumulation by enhancing plant photosynthesis. Enhanced peat decomposition due to warming slowed the carbon accumulation through the rest of the Holocene. While recent modeling studies indicate that the northern peatlands will continue to act as a carbon sink in this century, our studies suggest that future enhanced peat decomposition accompanied by peatland areal changes induced by permafrost degradation and other disturbances shall confound the sink and source analysis.


This article was originally published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, volume 125, in 2020.


American Geophysical Union



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