An international group of scientists dug deep into the past to understand how peatlands, a type of wetland formed by incompletely decomposed organic matter and water, might respond to climate changes in the future. Peatlands, found in northern and tropical climates, are considered a "carbon sink" because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere causing less carbon to be released. Carbon dioxide, created by burning fossil fuels, is understood to be a cause of Earth's warming climate. Peatlands only comprise about 3 percent of the Earth's land area, but contain about one-third of the global soil carbon and thus have an outsized impact on the global carbon cycle -- and an important role to play in global climate change. It has been known that during the Holocene (11,700 years ago to the present) northern peatlands accumulated significant carbon stocks over several thousand years. However, almost nothing has been known about peatlands that existed before that time. Now, an international team of scientists has become the first to conduct a study of global peatland extent and carbon stocks through the last interglacial-glacial cycle -- 130,000 years ago to the present -- filling this key knowledge gap. Using a newly compiled database of 1,063 stratigraphic records of peat deposits buried by mineral sediments, as well as a global peatland model, the team discovered that northern peatland expanded across high latitudes during warm periods and were buried during periods of cooling, or glacial advance.
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