The Ongoing Lateral Expansion of Peatlands in Finland

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Teemu Juselius-Rajamäki
Minna Väliranta
Atte Korhola
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Peatlands are the most dense terrestrial carbon stock and since the last glacial epoch northern peatlands have accumulated between 400 and 1000 Gt of carbon. Although the horizontal development history of the peatlands during the Holocene has been previously researched, these studies have overlooked the current peatland margins. This has led to a long-standing view that the lateral expansion of the peatlands has halted or significantly slowed down. However, no concentrated effort focusing on the recent development of the peatland margins has been conducted. To fulfil this knowledge gap, we studied the development of peatland margins in five Finnish peatlands. In addition, we studied the effect of peatland subsoil characteristics and past forest fires on the peatland expansion. We sampled 15 transects with a total of 47 peat cores utilizing 14C radiocarbon dating on the basal layers of these peat cores. Our results show that the Northern peatlands are still expanding with four of our study sites having recent, post-1950's basal ages in the peatland margins. In addition, the rate of peatland lateral expansion has increased during the last 1500 years in our study sites, challenging the current knowledge of the recent peatland expansion dynamics. We recorded lateral expansion rates of 0.1–6.4 cm/year from the sites studied. The rate of lateral expansion was restricted by local characteristics, especially the steepness of subsoil (p = .0108). Forest fires likely played an important role as the trigger for lateral expansion in southern study sites with large number of charcoal found at the basal layer of the peat cores. Depending on the scope of this recent lateral expansion across the vast northern peatlands, the effect on the carbon balance could be significant and should be taken into account when estimating the development of carbon pools in these crucial ecosystems.