Peatlands of Antarctica

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Julie Loisel, Zicheng Yu, Dave Beilman

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Here we report a series of recent findings from peat deposits in maritime Antarctica, including the discovery of a mossdominated, waterlogged peatland on Cape Rasmussen (65.2°S, 64.1°W). To our knowledge, peatlands have never been reported in Antarctica. We interpret its peatland initiation, around 2700 cal. BP, as well as its recent resurgence, less than 50 years ago, as new and important indicators of ecosystem changes that have been brought about by warmer conditions in the region. While numerous aerobic moss peatbanks (non-wetland systems) have been described and analyzed across the Antarctic Peninsula over the past few decades (these observations will be briefly reviewed in this presentation), the reported peatland on Cape Rasmussen conforms to the wetland definition and resembles soligenous fen systems typically found in the boreal, subarctic, and sub-Antarctic regions. This recent peatland recovery might have been triggered by ongoing rapid warming, as the area is experiencing climatic conditions approaching those found on milder, peatland-rich sub-Antarctic islands (50-60°S). Assuming that colonization opportunities and stabilization mechanisms would allow peat to persist in Antarctica, our results suggest that longer and warmer growing seasons in the maritime Antarctic region may lead to a peatland-rich landscape in the future. One of the key reasons explaining the widespread occurrence of moss peatbanks and the scarcity of peatlands in Antarctica might be their different surface energy balances. With their saturated grounds, peatlands lose energy to the atmosphere through latent heat flux, such that their surface is often cooler than air temperature during daytime.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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