Collecting ideas from Lokolama residents, DRC. Credit: Kevin McElvaney/Greenpeace
Is the peatland stable?
To make predictions about the future of the peatlands, we need to use models. Measurements taken by the research team will be used to develop a Congo version of DigiBog – a model that simulates the development of peatland ecosystems.
Led by Prof Andy Baird from the University of Leeds, the DigiBog model will “grow” or “destroy” a peatland depending on the data inputs – such as the amount of carbon from dead plant material added to the soil and the speed of decomposition.
We can use the model to simulate the cutting of trees, allowing us to assess the impact of logging on the peat carbon stocks, or to dig virtual drainage ditches – allowing us to estimate how much carbon will be released if the peat is drained for an palm oil plantation, for example.
However, DigiBog cannot be used within global climate models. For this we need to add to ongoing global modelling efforts. Led by Prof Richard Betts from the University of Exeter and the Met Office Hadley Centre, we will also make improvements to the UK community global land surface model called JULES (Joint UK Land Environment Simulator) so that it includes the tropical peatland.
This will allow us to investigate how the Congo peatlands will respond to various future climate change scenarios. This will help answer the fundamental question: are these peatlands a new vulnerable tipping point within the Earth system?