Chapter 3.2 Drying of peatlands

Peatland droughts are created by the vagaries of nature and mankind. Rapid climate change that results in long dry seasons tends to dry peatlands up, allowing them to be converted into land for agricultural and plantation industries.

Peatlands are often deliberately dried to expand plantation acreage. © CIFOR

Drought in peatlands can be caused by both natural and human climate change factors. Longer dry seasons cause the water in the peat ecosystem to recede, and the area gradually dries out.

Furthermore, peatlands are often deliberately drained in order to convert more areas for agriculture and plantation industries.

On a small scale, dry peat can be rehydrated with the help of rain or other sources of water. However, after massive draining out of water, the peatlands cannot be replenished and are converted into plantations instead.

The draining of peatlands causes microbes in the soil to consume the organic matter and release carbon dioxide. As organic matter decays, peatlands also shrink. To maintain the land for agriculture and plantations, peatlands are continuously drained to prevent flooding and replenishment. Recurring droughts and continuous peatland draining result in a vicious cycle of carbon dioxide emissions.

The negative impacts of dry peatlands do not end there. When the peatland dries up, the plants and shrubs on it, as well as the peat itself, is more prone to fires (either due to long periods of drought or those that are set deliberately to clear the land). This process releases the large stocks of carbon stored in the peat, releases it as carbon dioxide and accelerates the rise in the earth’s temperature resulting in climate change.