Nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) play important roles in peatlands, through their influence on plant production and peat decomposition rates and on redox reactions, respectively, and peatlands contain substantial stores of these two elements. Using peat N and S concentrations and dry bulk density and 210Pb dating, we determined the rates of N and S accumulation over the past 150 years in hummock and hollow profiles from 23 ombrotrophic bogs in eastern Canada. Concentrations of N and S averaged 0.80% and 0.18%, respectively, generally increased with depth in the profile and there was a weak but significant correlation between N and S concentrations. Rates of N and S accumulation over the past 50–150 years ranged from 0.5 to 4.8 g N m−2 yr−1 and from 0.1 to 0.9 g S m−2 yr−1. There were significant but weak correlations between C, N and S accumulation rates over 50-, 100- and 150-year periods. Over the last 50 years, rates of S accumulation showed little differentiation between hummocks and hollows, whereas the pattern for N accumulation was more variable (hummock minus hollow rate ranged from −1 to +1.5 g N m−2 yr−1), with hummocks generally having a larger N accumulation rate, correlated with the rate of carbon (C) accumulation. There was a modest but significant positive correlation between 50-year rates of N accumulation and wet atmospheric deposition of N measured between 1990 and 1996, with accumulation rates about four times that of wet deposition. The difference between deposition and accumulation of N is attributed to organic N deposition, dry deposition and N2 fixation. A weaker, but still significant, correlation was observed between 50-year S accumulation and 1990–1996 wet atmospheric S deposition, with about 75% of the deposited S accumulating in the peat. A laboratory experiment with peat cores exposed to varying water table position and simulated N and S deposition, showed that on average 87% and 98% of the deposited NH4+ and NO3−, respectively, and 58% of the deposited S were retained in the vegetation and unsaturated zone of the cores, supporting the results from the field study.
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