Inside the Congo Basin, which has 3.7 million square kilometers, stand some of the planet’s largest tropical rainforests and vast wetlands, but also the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, which may be one of Earth’s most carbon rich ecosystems. This area desperately needs to be protected in order to avoid the release of the equivalent to 20 years of carbon emissions from the United States.
Recently discovered and mapped swamps may contain 30 billion tons of carbon, according to the investigations made by a UK-Congolese research team. Their analysis, based on three year’s worth of peat analysis and satellite data, published in Nature on Wednesday, show that the Cuvette Centrale peatlands “hold nearly 30% of the world’s tropical peatland carbon,” as research co-leader Professor Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds said.
“Our research shows that the peat in the Central Congo basin covers a colossal amount of land. It is 16 times larger than the previous estimate and is the single largest peatland complex found anywhere in the tropics.”
Peat is formed from soaked, partially decomposed plant materials, and is more commonly found in cooler climates, such as Scotland, inhabitat reports. To mentain the carbon stored, peat must not dry out, because if it does, due to climate change or land disturbance, decomposition of the material will release more carbon into the atmosphere.
“The maintenance and protection of this peatland complex, alongside protecting our forests, could be central Africa’s great contribution to the global climate change problem,” said Dr. Ifo Suspense, study co-author and researcher at Université Marien Ngouabi in Brazzaville.
In this context, the Republic of Congo is considering an expansion of its Lac Télé community reserve to protect an additional 50,000 square kilometers of swamp forest, mostly peatlands.