GAS PRODUCTION DURING PEAT DECAY
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Decay and accumulation of blanket peat in the Northern Pennine region of England are considered, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. Productivity on the surface of these peat bogs is not unusually high, suggesting that a low decay rate may be responsible for the accumulation of the peat. Considerable study has formerly been made of the aerobic decay processes, at the expense of the parallel anaerobic processes, which have largely hitherto been considered negligible. Yet a current mathematical model of peat accumulation suggests that it is likely to be the anaerobic decay rate which determines the total depth of peat which may accumulate. Further, such models intimate that a very small absolute change in the anaerobic decay rate will have an unexpectedly large effect on the potential steady state depth of peat. The present study concentrates on obtaining measurements of anaerobic decay rates, and on identifying the possible limiting environmental factors of the decay. The design of a sampler to collect gas samples in situ from blanket peat is described. The components of particular interest in the samples are CH4 and C02. Gas concentrations down eight peat profiles at two sites are monitored over two seasons. Simultaneous surface flux measurements above pool, lawn and hummock microhabitats are also made. Water level, temperature, pH, redox potential, depth of the sulphide zone and total sulphide concentration are recorded on each field visit. The results from the gas sample analyses are discussed in relation to the environmental factors and in relation to our present understanding of peat decay rates and their consequences on peat accumulation. The anaerobic decay rate is calculated, and is confirmed to be several orders of magnitude less than that in the overlying aerobic peat. It is shown that the methane is not fossil, but is continually being produced at all depths. Rates of gas production are calculated. Annual methane and carbon dioxide losses from entire peat bogs are calculated to contribute a significant amount to carbon cycling, on a site-specific and global scale.
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