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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

M. C. Jones & Z. Yu, PNAS 107 (2010), Rapid deglacial and early Holocene expansion of peatlands in Alaska

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 107, No. 16, pp. 7347-7352 (April 20, 2010).

Rapid deglacial and early Holocene expansion of peatlands in Alaska

Miriam C. Jones* and Zicheng Yu

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015, U.S.A.


Northern peatlands represent one of the largest biospheric carbon (C) reservoirs; however, the role of peatlands in the global carbon cycle remains intensely debated, owing in part to the paucity of detailed regional datasets and the complexity of the role of climate, ecosystem processes, and environmental factors in controlling peatland C dynamics. Here we used detailed C accumulation data from four peatlands and a compilation of peatland initiation ages across Alaska to examine Holocene peatland dynamics and climate sensitivity. We find that 75% of dated peatlands in Alaska initiated before 8,600 years ago and that early Holocene C accumulation rates were four times higher than the rest of the Holocene. Similar rapid peatland expansion occurred in West Siberia during the Holocene thermal maximum (HTM). Our results suggest that high summer temperature and strong seasonality during the HTM in Alaska might have played a major role in causing the highest rates of C accumulation and peatland expansion. The rapid peatland expansion and C accumulation in these vast regions contributed significantly to the peak of atmospheric methane concentrations in the early Holocene. Furthermore, we find that Alaskan peatlands began expanding much earlier than peatlands in other regions, indicating an important contribution of these peatlands to the pre-Holocene increase in atmospheric methane concentrations.

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