Effects of a Changing Climate on Peatlands in Permafrost Zones: A Literature Review and Application to Ontarios Far North CCRR34

Summary

The Far North of Ontario encompasses 45.2 million hectares of land, with peatlandsdefined here as non-forested bogs and fensas the dominant land class, accounting for nearly 50% of the landscape and storing approximately 36 Gt (1 Gt = 1015 g) of carbon. The Hudson Bay Lowlands (HBL) account for nearly 50% of the land area and stores about 75% of the peatland carbon in the Far North. The HBL is the largest peatland complex with the southernmost distribution of non-alpine permafrost in North America. More than 75% of the HBL occurs in Ontario, where the provincial Far North Act mandates that the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change, and their carbon storage and sequestration potential, be considered in land use planning. Because peatlands account for nearly 75% of the HBL landscape, we reviewed the peatland literature and identified peatland succession, permafrost thaw, hydrology, and fire as potential climate change indicators that drive peatland carbon budgets. As well, remote sensing can be used to scale these indicators to estimate current and project future states of the HBL landscape and the strength of its carbon sink. We propose two hypotheses of potential climate change effects on peatland carbon in the HBL: (1) in northern ecoregions accelerated permafrost thawing and wetter peat enhances methane emissions and (2) in southern ecoregions increased evapotranspiration and drier peat accelerates carbon dioxide losses through peat decomposition (and possible fire). We also propose a climate change vulnerability and adaptation assessment framework for HBL peatlands and discuss challenges to its development and application in land use planning.

Published Date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Ontario Government, Ministry of Natural Resources
Author: Science and Information Resources Division

Details

Effects of a Changing Climate on Peatlands in Permafrost Zones: A Literature Review and Application to Ontarios Far North CCRR34
ISBN: 978-1-4606-1439-6   (PDF) 6.68 MB