Creative Associates: Visualisation of carbon sequestration in temperate peatlands

Total stored carbon as 88,000 tonnes of CO2 gas. Credit: Paul Lunt/Real World Visuals

Globally, opportunities for the uptake and storage of CO2 are of vital importance in reducing the impacts of climate change. Biological systems such as peatlands can remove CO2 from the atmosphere. They cover only 3 per cent of the Earth’s terrestrial land area but are by far the most significant long-term store of plant carbon, holding twice as much carbon as all of Earth’s forest combined. In total this carbon equates to ~1800 gigatons of CO2, which is over half of the total amount held in the atmosphere. A Creative Associates project led by Dr Paul Lunt has been researching the carbon storage (sequestration) in temperate peatlands. 

Over a period of 6 years students on an MSc Environmental Consultancy programme had collected data from Fox Tor Mire, Dartmoor. During the study, peat cores and depth measurements were taken at regular intervals across the mire to determine the rate of peat accumulation that had formed in the valley mire site since 1876. Previous to this date the mire had been used for mining which had left alluvial deposits of china clay that could be used as a distinctive and accurate marker for recording for peat growth between 1876-2011. The peat core was analysed to determine carbon and CO2 content.

<p>134 years of peat growth</p>
134 years of peat growth
<p>Annual sequestration: 1.13kg of CO2 per meter square</p>
Annual sequestration: 1.13kg of CO2 per meter square

The study found that:

  • Each year a meter square of peat was able to store 1.1 kg CO2. 
  • On average peat growth was 9.5cm per year and over 134 years produced a depth of 127cm
  • This 127cm depth of peat over the entire 58.3 hectare peat body at Fox Tor Mire holds the equivalent of 88,000 tonnes of CO2 gas.

To give this figure context this amount of CO2 over the 134 years is equivalent to the annual present day carbon footprint of ~8,800 UK citizens - carbon footprint for the average British citizen ~10 tons CO2 equivalent per year.

As a colourless, odourless gas, CO2 is difficult for the public and landowners to visualise. The research team worked with Real World Visuals who specialise in visualising carbon and environmental issues. A video and set of images were made to capture and ‘see’ the project data. Using a variety of different perspectives and accurate real-life scaling to view the data, we can see the carbon in the landscape, bringing an added meaning and understanding to the volume of carbon sequestration in peatlands.

Real World Visuals

Real World Visuals specialise in data visualisation for contemporary environmental and humanitarian topics and challenges, turning unseen numbers and volumes into relatable imagery.

They have helped clients communicate a range of subjects such as air pollution, ozone, carbon capture, waste disposal, water and resource use to their audiences. The team are able to accurately transform data into images, animations and interactives that convey meaningful volume, scale and perspective.

Find out more about Real World Visuals on their website

Creative Associates

The Sustainable Earth Institute's Creative Associates projects aim to explore novel and innovative ways of communicating research and develop a portfolio of case studies of the different creative approaches possible

Find out more about the initiatives

Image: Carey Marks/Creative Associates

Research

Economic development and human population growth are leading to unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. This is being manifested in climate change, unprecedented loss of biodiversity and locally in a deterioration of our living environment.

Environmental management seeks to ensure sustainable development is achieved through environmental legislation, education and social responsibility.

Learn more about research in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences