Water relations in cutover peatlands

Jonathan S. Price, Scott J. Ketcheson

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Sphagnum mosses, the dominant peat-forming plant in many northern peatlands, generally do not regenerate spontaneously in mined peatlands because water transfer between the cutover peat and incipient moss diaspores cannot overcome the capillary barrier effect between the two hydraulically distinct layers. Artificial drainage networks established throughout peatlands, coupled with the removal of the acrotelm during the peat extraction process, drastically alter the natural system function through the exposure of more decomposed catotelm peat and increased compression, oxidation, and shrinkage, subsequently decreasing average pore diameter and enhancing this capillary barrier effect. Water table (WT) fluctuations, constrained within the reduced specific yield of the altered catotelm, exhibit increased variability and rapid decline. The increased effective stress caused by a declining WT can result in seasonal surface subsidence of 8 to 10 cm, thereby reducing saturated hydraulic conductivity by three orders of magnitude. Restoration efforts aim to alter the disturbed hydrological regime, creating conditions more favorable for the recolonization of Sphagnum mosses and the ultimate reestablishment of an upper acrotelm layer. Due to the large areal coverage and high organic carbon content, the response of peatlands to disturbances caused by resource extraction, and their return to functioning ecosystems, must be thoroughly addressed. This paper integrates both published and unpublished work to facilitate an overview of our understanding of the hydrological impact of peat cutting and its implications for restoration.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)277-287
    Number of pages11
    JournalGeophysical Monograph Series
    Volume184
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

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