Carbon balance and radiative forcing of Finnish peatlands 1900–2100 – the impact of forestry drainage


Kari Minkkinen, tel. + 358 9 19158141, fax + 358 9 19158100, e-mail:


Natural peatlands accumulate carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). They affect the global climate by binding carbon dioxide (CO2) and releasing methane (CH4) to the atmosphere; in contrast fluxes of nitrous oxide (N2O) in natural peatlands are insignificant. Changes in drainage associated with forestry alter these greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes and thus the radiative forcing (RF) of peatlands. In this paper, changes in peat and tree stand C stores, GHG fluxes and the consequent RF of Finnish undisturbed and forestry-drained peatlands are estimated for 1900–2100. The C store in peat is estimated at 5.5 Pg in 1950. The rate of C sequestration into peat has increased from 2.2 Tg a--1 in 1900, when all peatlands were undrained, to 3.6 Tg a--1 at present, when c. 60% of peatlands have been drained for forestry. The C store in tree stands has increased from 60 to 170 Tg during the 20th century. Methane emissions have decreased from an estimated 1.0–0.5 Tg CH4--C a--1, while those of N2O have increased from 0.0003 to 0.005 Tg N2O--N a--1. The altered exchange rates of GHG gases since 1900 have decreased the RF of peatlands in Finland by about 3 mW m--2 from the predrainage situation. This result contradicts the common hypothesis that drainage results in increased C emissions and therefore increased RF of peatlands. The negative radiative forcing due to drainage is caused by increases in CO2 sequestration in peat (--0.5 mW m--2), tree stands and wood products (--0.8 mW m--2), decreases in CH4 emissions from peat to the atmosphere (--1.6 mW m--2), and only a small increase in N2O emissions (+0.1 mW m--2). Although the calculations presented include many uncertainties, the above results are considered qualitatively reliable and may be expected to be valid also for Scandinavian countries and Russia, where most forestry-drained peatlands occur outside Finland.