“Our research shows that the peat in the central Congo basin covers a colossal amount of land. It is 16 times larger than the previous estimate and is the single largest peatland complex found anywhere in the tropics,” Professor Simon Lewis, leader of the team that discovered the peatland, told Nature.
Lewis also revealed that the peat covers only 4 percent of the entire Congo Basin but stores the same amount of carbon below ground as the amount stored above ground in the trees covering the rest of the basin.
Lewis’ team combined years of peat analysis with satellite information to come to the conclusion that the peatland in the Congo Basin is the largest carbon deposit in the world.
What Are the Benefits?
A peatland is an area covered with peat, an organic wetland soil made from partly decomposed plant debris, predominantly found in cool environments, such as Europe, Canada, and Northern Russia.
The main benefit of a peatland is that it serves as a carbon sink, filtering carbon from the atmosphere through plant growth. The damp environment surrounding the peat prevents it from decomposing completely, thus enabling it to lock up carbon.
“Peatlands are only a resource in the fight against climate change when [they] are left intact, and so maintaining large stores of carbon in undisturbed peatlands should be a priority. Our new results show that carbon has been building up in the Congo Basin’s peat for nearly 11,000 years,” Lewis said.
He further warned that if the Congo Basin peatland complex was to be destroyed, it would release billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which would worsen the ongoing climate change.
On that note, the peatland may be vulnerable to high temperatures that cause increased evaporation and reduced rainfall. According to Lewis, increased drainage of swamps in the Congo Basin for agriculture in the neighboring areas puts the peatland in great danger of drying out.
Therefore, the peatland and the larger Congo Basin will need added protection to ensure it continues to mitigate the effects of the ongoing carbon emissions in Africa and the world at large.
by Fredrick Ngugi