Arctic peatlands
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The vast undisturbed peatlands covering about 70% of the Arctic are amongst the last remaining wilderness and natural resource areas of the world.

Peatlands are significant for the floristic diversity of the Arctic, and of the more than 60 bird species with conservation priority in the European Arctic alone, 75% are strongly associated with tundra and mire habitats.   Download press package here


Although their status has not yet been described comprehensively in the scientific literature, it has been shown that climate change arising from global warming influences peatlands both directly and indirectly. 

Freeze-thaw processes play a key role in the development and maintenance of these peatlands by shaping the surface of the landscape, and the types that are exclusive to the Arctic are associated with permafrost. Over recent years, the southern limit of permafrost in northern peatlands has retreated by 39 km on average and by as much as 200 km in some parts of Arctic Canada. However, these changes are not exclusively linked to temperature rise. The loss of permafrost has also been caused by the insulating effect of increased snowfall since the late 1950s.

It is anticipated that trees and other boreal species will colonize Arctic peatlands as the northern treeline migrates to higher latitudes in response to rising summer temperatures. On the other hand, non-frozen peatlands are likely to expand northward as temperature rises.

Traditional uses of Arctic peatlands, such as grazing, hunting, and berry-picking were sustainable for many years.   Now, new technologies have made access to the harsh Arctic environment easier, leading to renewed development of the oil and gas industry and a supporting infrastructure for transport, which significantly fragments the landscape and disrupts its hydrology. Even traditional land uses such as reindeer herding are becoming  industrialized, and the growing human presence means that wild mammals and birds are increasingly threatened by recreational hunting. Thus, there is a need to promote sustainable practices.

These human impacts are added to those of climate change, which alone is expected to transform Arctic peatlands through loss of permafrost. This will in turn reduce their ecosystem diversity and thus their biodiversity value, and create a positive feedback for climate change by releasing the greenhouse gas methane.

Arctic ecosystems are characterized by low species diversity, and these species have a low resistance to disturbance and extremely limited potential for natural recovery. Thus, there is already a need for the development of restoration technologies for Arctic peatlands, which must be designed specifically for permafrost systems.

Although the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity have acknowledged that special action to conserve peatlands is urgently required, they are still under-represented in conservation strategies.

The vast undisturbed peatlands covering about 70% of the Arctic are amongst the last remaining wilderness and natural resource areas of the world. Peatlands are significant for the floristic diversity of the Arctic, and of the more than 60 bird species with conservation priority in the European Arctic alone, 75% are strongly associated with tundra and mire habitats.Although their status has not yet been described comprehensively in the scientific literature, it has been shown that climate change arising from global warming influences peatlands both directly and indirectly.Freeze-thaw processes play a key role in the development and maintenance of these peatlands by shaping the surface of the landscape, and the types that are exclusive to the Arctic are associated with permafrost. Over recent years, the southern limit of permafrost in northern peatlands has retreated by 39 km on average and by as much as 200 km in some parts of Arctic Canada. However, these changes are not exclusively linked to temperature rise. The loss of permafrost has also been caused by the insulating effect of increased snowfall since the late 1950s.  It is anticipated that trees and other boreal species will colonize Arctic peatlands as the northern treeline migrates to higher latitudes in response to rising summer temperatures. On the other hand, non-frozen peatlands are likely to expand northward as temperature rises. 

Traditional uses of Arctic peatlands, such as grazing, hunting, and berry-picking were sustainable for many years.   Now, new technologies have made access to the harsh Arctic environment easier, leading to renewed development of the oil and gas industry and a supporting infrastructure for transport, which significantly fragments the landscape and disrupts its hydrology. Even traditional land uses such as reindeer herding are becoming  industrialized, and the growing human presence means that wild mammals and birds are increasingly threatened by recreational hunting. Thus, there is a need to promote sustainable practices.These human impacts are added to those of climate change, which alone is expected to transform Arctic peatlands through loss of permafrost. This will in turn reduce their ecosystem diversity and thus their biodiversity value, and create a positive feedback for climate change by releasing the greenhouse gas methane. Arctic ecosystems are characterized by low species diversity, and these species have a low resistance to disturbance and extremely limited potential for natural recovery. Thus, there is already a need for the development of restoration technologies for Arctic peatlands, which must be designed specifically for permafrost systems.Although the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity have acknowledged that special action to conserve peatlands is urgently required, they are still under-represented in conservation strategies.