Increase in carbon emissions from Dutch peatlands

5 September 2017

Climate change causes carbon emissions from peatlands to increase, possibly by seventy percent over the course of the next century. At the same time, the Netherlands are required to decrease peat emissions by a third after 2021. Earth scientist Ko van Huissteden (Vrije Universiteit) is one of the researchers working on this issue.

Peatlands consist of half-decomposed plant materials that have been covered by water for thousands of years. Submerged, decomposition of the plants is halted, keeping carbon  locked in the soil. However, groundwater levels in peatlands are lowered to make the land suitable for agriculture. When these areas are drained, the peat is exposed and carbon is released.

Climate agreements

The process of carbon release from drying peatlands has been known for years. Yet carbon emissions from peat are included in the total greenhouse gas emissions of the Netherlands, and need to be decreased by a third after 2021.

Chamber system Huissteden AWS

Measurements at Ilperveld. Photo: Ko van Huissteden

Researchers are looking for ways to keep the soil wet, while still keeping it suitable for agriculture. Ko van Huissteden: "The challenge is to find new forms of agriculture and use of plant species that stop or even reverse the emissions and bind the carbon in the soil again. It is also important to support the development of wet natural areas, which typically have low carbon emissions."

Emissions

Ko van Huissteden and his team are measuring greenhouse gas emission in various of such nature development locations, and are developing a model to predict the potential for carbon sequestration in peatlands.

Ko van Huissteden in the field

Ko van Huissteden is Associate Professor in Hydrology at the Earth and Climate Cluster of the Earth and Life Sciences Faculty of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and is part of Amsterdam Water Science.

Recently, he featured in a NOS news article (in Dutch) on the topic of carbon emissions from Dutch peatlands:

The Dutch radio show Met het oog op morgen recently interviewed Ko van Huissteden and colleague Jorien Vonk on their related work on carbon emissions from thawing permafrost regions in Siberia:

Pilot project

Earlier this year, Ko van Huissteden supervised a pilot project (funded by Amsterdam Water Science) on improving the measurements of greenhouse gasses in peatlands.  

Published by  IBED Water