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Bogs Watched for Warning Signs of Carbon Upset

Trent University professor Peter Lafleur.
Richard Harris, NPR
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Trent University professor Peter Lafleur.
Trent University professor Peter Lafleur is part of a research team that monitors the behavior of the Mer Bleue bog year around. They're measuring how much carbon dioxide the bog takes in, and how much the wetland releases.
Richard Harris, NPR /
/
Trent University professor Peter Lafleur is part of a research team that monitors the behavior of the Mer Bleue bog year around. They're measuring how much carbon dioxide the bog takes in, and how much the wetland releases.

The peat bogs that produce sphagnum moss for your garden center may seem like lowly ecosystems. But globally, these bogs contain more carbon than all the world's tropical rainforests. A decade ago, scientists started to worry that as the world warms, this vast store of carbon could vent out as carbon dioxide and speed up global warming. NPR's Richard Harris visited a peat bog in Ontario, where researchers are trying to understand the role of bogs in climate change.

For the past eight years, researchers from McGill and Trent universities have set up a series of experiments at Mer Bleue bog to measure potential changes in carbon respiration. The bog plants take in carbon dioxide during the day, and release it at night. That balance is critical because land plants produce about 10 times as much carbon dioxide as that produced by burning fossil fuels. The difference is plants absorb more of the gas than they produce.

But scientists are concerned that as humans release greater amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into the atmosphere, it may change the cycle of these carbon sinks.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.