Peatlands

Peat (also referred to as Turf) is a varied mixture of more or less decomposed plant (humus) material that is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, mires, moors or muskegs (swamps).

Peat forms when plant material does not fully decay in acidic and anaerobic (living in the absence of oxygen) conditions. It is composed primarily of wetland vegetation: mainly bog plants including mosses, sedges, and shrubs. As it develops, the peat stores water. This slowly creates wetter conditions that allow the area of wetland to expand over time. Peatland features can include ponds, ridges, and raised bogs. Peat usually accumulates slowly at the rate of about a millimetre per year.

Most modern peat bogs formed approximately 12,000 years ago in high latitudes following glacial retreat at the end of the last ice age. The rate of accumulating plant material is greatest in areas where the temperature is high enough for plant growth but too low for the vigorous microbial activity that breaks down the plant material. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding prevents the transfer of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition. Such conditions are found more frequently in the northern hemisphere.

A peatland subsequently describes an area with or without vegetation with a naturally accumulated peat layer at the surface.


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