A Peat Bog Bigger Than England In The Congo Basin Could Unlock Climate Change Secrets

The discovery could have huge implications for the study of long-term climate change.

1. Scientists have found a peat bog deep in the jungle of the Congo Basin that’s bigger than England and could tell us a huge amount about climate change.

Dr Simon Lewis

This remote part of West Africa, in Congo-Brazzaville, could give clues as to the extent of human carbon consumption. Researchers estimate the area is between 100,000 and 200,000 square miles and has peat reaching seven metres below the surface.

Peat – made from partially decayed vegetation – acts like a massive sponge for carbon and releases it over time. By taking samples from the soil, scientists can see how much carbon has been stored over the last 10,000 years, meaning they can judge the rate of carbon emissions over time.

It also gives geographers an idea of what might happen in the future.

2. Dr Simon Lewis, from the University of Leeds, was part of the team who discovered the peatland, which had been suspected to exist but not found until now.

Dr Simon Lewis

Dr Lewis says: “Peatlands, generally, have been a big carbon sink over the past 10,000 years. They have been taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it as peat for the long term.

“And what we’ve found in central Africa is another one of those areas, so it adds a little piece to that jigsaw puzzle of where all the carbon goes in the atmosphere, where the sources are and where the sinks are, particularly in the pre-industrial era.

“So we can reduce our uncertainty around the global carbon cycle before humans started changing it.”

It will be a year or two before any firm data emerges on this, however.

3. Although Dr Lewis said the discovery was just as important to global science as for the local region.

Dr Simon Lewis

He told BuzzFeed: “The real story is that this is an area of the world that, despite being in the age of Google Maps, is really uncharted territory. No one knew it was a peat bog.”

The largely uncharted central Congo wetlands is the second biggest in the world, he said, and as much as 10% of it could be peatlands – meaning that an area twice the size of the UK could contain the peat.

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