The Global Peatland Database

The Global Peatland Database (GPD) is a project of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) located and maintained at the Greifswald Mire Centre.

Organic soil probability map of the Lake Victoria region.

The GPD collates and integrates data on location, extent and drainage status of peatlands and organic soils worldwide and for 268 individual countries and regions. The database contains analogue and GIS maps, reports, observations, pictures, and is supported by the Peatland and Nature Conservation International Library PeNCIL. The GPD regularly produces integrative analyses including biennial worldwide overviews on peatland status and emissions and provides science-based, policy-relevant spatial information for: 

  • climate change mitigation and adaptation;
  • biodiversity conservation and restoration;
  • and sustainable land use planning.

Contact

Dr. Alexandra Barthelmes

Senior researcher

- working group coordination, project development
- data search and integration for peatland mapping and assessment
- maintenance of the country-specific Global Peatland emission Database (‘GPemD’) for areas of drained organic soils
- evaluation of national UNFCCC reporting on GHG emissions from drained organic soils
- supervision (internship, BSc, MSc, PhD) focus: globally

focus: globally

Dr. Cosima Tegetmeyer

Senior researcher

- coordination of geo-spatial data for the GMC ‘Global Peatland Map’
- GIS specialist, maps design, remote sensing
- archive work, data search and integration for peatland mapping and assessment
- supervision (internship, BSc, MSc, PhD) focus: globally

focus: globally

Dr. Samer Elshehawi

Postdoc researcher

- eco-hydrology of peatlands
- project development
- supervision (internship, BSc, MSc, PhD)

regional focus: Eastern and southern Africa, and Indonesia

MSc Karen-Doreen Barthelmes

Junior researcher

- GIS, manually integration of peatland data and high-resolution mapping
- peatland degradation, drivers and impact
- training and support for students (internship, BSc, MSc)

focus: globally

PhD Felix Beer

Junior researcher

-peatland mapping, remote sensing, peatland restoration
- training and support for students (internship, BSc, MSc)

focus: SE Asia, Eastern and Central Africa, Latin America

PhD Cristina Malpica

Junior researcher

- developing GIS based peatland probability maps
- archive work, data search and integration for peatland mapping and assessment
- training and support for students (internship, BSc, MSc)

focus: South America

PhD Farina de Waard

Junior researcher

- peatland degradation and fire
- big data and machine learning
- training and support for students (internship, BSc, MSc)
- technical support of the working group (internet, supplies, office technique)

focus: globally

History

The Global Peatland Database started in the 1990s as a project of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) with the aim to elaborate a worldwide overview of the occurrence of peatlands, with references and background information. The necessity of such overview emerged from the development of IMCG/IPS Wise Use guidelines, in which the first global overview was published. 

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The 8th Conference of Contracting Parties of the Ramsar Convention (Valencia, November 2002) adopted Guidelines for Global Action on Peatlands (GGAP) to provide a framework for worldwide initiatives for peatland wise use, conservation and management. These guidelines recommended the establishment of a global database of peatlands and mires with baseline information on their distribution, size, quality, ecological characteristics, biological diversity, and stored carbon. 

Facing that challenge, the Global Peatland Database (GPD) is today located at the Greifswald Mire Centre, coordinated by Prof. Hans Joosten and Dr. Alexandra Barthelmes and continuously developing and improving. 

Background

Undrained, intact peatlands provide many important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and storage, water regulation, nutrient retention, and provision of habitats for threatened wildlife (Joosten & Clarke 2002; Parish et al. 2008; Bonn et al. 2016).  

Drained peatlands are currently responsible for 5% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, which is almost double the amount of CO2 emissions from aviation (Wetlands International 2015). Rewetting drained peatlands has therefore a large greenhouse gas mitigation potential. 

An urgent need exists to identify the location of peatlands, to protect them from drainage, and to rewet drained areas to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.  

References

Methods

Relation between hydric soils, organic soils, peat soils and Soil Organic Carbon (SOC).

No globally accepted definition for ‘peatland’ exists. Various English terms (mire, marsh, swamp, fen, bog …) are used for naming different mire and wetland types (Joosten et al. 2017). To elaborate a global overview on peatlands the GPD includes all soils that fit into the broad IPCC concept of ‘organic soils’ with 12 percent or more organic soil carbon without a depth criterion (Hiraishi et al. 2014). This automatically includes almost all peatlands, histosols and other organic soils, and allows the use of diverse, historically grown national or regional datasets. 

Common terms and definitions for ‘peat’ and ‘organic soil’

Peatlands belong to the organic soils (histosols), which also include soils with shallower organic layers, less organic matter, and a sedimentary origin (FAO 2015). (Undrained) organic soils again belong to the ‘hydric soils’ (wetland soils; USDA, NRCS 2003). 

Varying with country and scientific discipline, peatlands have been defined as having a peat layer from 20 to 100 cm, whereas also the minimum content of organic matter of the ‘peat’ varies similarly across definitions (Joosten et al. 2017). However, many national approaches require “peatland”’ to have a minimum peat depth of 30 cm and ‘peat’ to have >30% (by dry mass) of sedentarily (=on the spot) produced organic material (Joosten & Clarke 2002, Parish et al. 2008, Rydin & Jeglum 2013).  

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers ‘organic soils’ to be soil with at least 12 to 18 percent of organic carbon, depending on the clay content (IPCC 2014). This definition encompasses all peatland and other organic soils, but has no criterion for the minimum thickness of the organic layer to allow countries to use their country-specific definitions, often historically determined.  

Proxy data for the indication of peatlands and organic soils

Detailed geospatial data on location, extent and drainage status of peatlands are rare and highly variable with respect to concepts, terms, completeness and accuracy. The Global Peatland Database (GPD) aims to fill knowledge gaps and to speed up peatland mapping and inventory. 

Gaps in the coverage of geospatial peatland data can partially be filled by using ‘proxy data’, i.e. (mainly abiotic) features which indicate the possible occurrence of peatlands.  

Suitable geospatial proxies
Map indicating organic soils/peat and proxy data for the Caribbean region (except the southern Islands).
  • Bedrock: alluvial and lacustrine sediments and areas;  
  • Relief and landforms indicating a surplus of water: depressions; floodplains and backs swamps along rivers; tidal flats and lagoons along coasts; high altitude gently sloping mountain valleys and volcanic plateaus; regular domes with con- and eccentric patterns such as raised Sphagnum bogs and tropical Peat Swamp Forests;  
  • Soils: hydromorphic, wetland, swamp and mangrove soils, muck or highly organic soils; 
  • Wetlands: long-term water logged areas;  
  • Vegetation: mangroves, salt marshes, grass and sedge dominated floodplains and valleys, freshwater broad-leaf forest (‘Peat Swamp Forest’), palm forest, Afro-alpine Moorlands and Andean Paramos;  
  • Land use: areas where agriculture is hampered by water logging, poor drainage, or inundation, or with regular anthropogenic drainage infrastructure.  

Integration and evaluation of geospatial peatland data

The GPD collects geospatial peatland data, analyses terms and concepts used, and evaluates their completeness and accuracy, using expertise of GMC members and international partners. The collated data are integrated in GIS to a hybrid, ‘bottom up’ peatland map with global coverage.   

 

Evaluation of national peat and organic soil GIS data for the Nordic-Baltic countries.

High resolution mapping of peatlands and organic soils

Despite rapidly developing remote sensing technology, peatland mapping still faces major problems: 

  • All remote sensing approaches need sufficient ground data for calibration and validation, but geo-referenced soil profiles from peatlands with adequate carbon content analysis are scarce. 
  • Major proxies for identifying peatlands by remote sensing are lost when peatlands are deforested or drained. Assessment of peatland occurrence in landscapes altered by humans therefore often requires the use of historical satellite imagery, that only goes back to the early 1970s with resolution decreasing the further back one goes in time.  
  • Peatlands are diverse and used in very different ways. This hampers simple extrapolation of results and requires high resolution mapping.  

 

We therefore developed an expert-based, manual, rapid, high resolution peatland mapping approach which delivers ‘peatland probability maps’, using available field data, specialized knowledge, and modern techniques (see the scheme of the mapping process below). The approach links various science networks, methodologies and databases, including those of peatland/landscape ecology for understanding where and how peatlands may occur, those of remote sensing or identifying possible locations, and those of soil science (legacy soil maps) and (palaeo-)ecology for ground truthing.  

Scheme of the high resolution peatland mapping process.
Organic soils of Rwanda (1 x 1 km grid) with drainage and degradation status: green=no degradation; yellow=slight degradation; red=heavy degradation.
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Peatland area per country in Europe (in % of total country area; GPD, 2015).
Current degraded peatland area per country in Europe (in % of total peatland area; GPD, 2015)
Current peatland area per country globally (in % of total country area; GPD, 2015).
Current peatland emissions per country and unit national land area globally (in t CO2e/km2; GPD, 2015).
Peatland emissions per country globally (in Mt CO2e/yr; GPD, 2015).
Key countries for peatland emissions in the European Union (in Mt CO2e/yr; GPD, 2019).

Additional links for:

(pdf) Aggregierte Karte der organischen Böden Deutschlands

(ppt) Peatlands of Africa (presentation at the Global Landscape Forum 2019, Accra, Ghana)

Smoke on water – countering global threats from peatland loss and degradation, a Rapid Response Assessment of UN environment and GRID-Arndal (contribution from GPD in framework of the Global Peatland Initiative)

(ppt) Distribution and degradation status of tropical peatland types (presentation at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon 2017, FAO, Rome)

(ppt) The contribution of drained organic soils to the globally emitted greenhouse gases and global emission hotspots (presentation at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2016, Vienna)

(poster) Mapping location, extent and drainage status of organic soils in East Africa (presentation at the 15. International Peat Congress 2016, Kuching, Malaysia)

(pdf) Briefing paper: accelerating action to Save Peat for Less Heat!

The peatland map of Europe  

 

 

Ongoing and completed projects

“The Global Peatlands Initiative: Assessing, Measuring and Preserving Peat Carbon” (ICI) 

“Path to sustainable management of peatlands in North Kalimantan” (GIZ) 

“Update of the GMC Global Peatland Map” (September 2020 to February 2021) 

“Update of the GMC country-wise emission database and assessment of GHG emissions from peatlands” (March to April 2021) 

 “Developing a pantropical peatland map based on eco-zones with substantial peat occurrences” 

Selected completed projects

Current and completed degree theses

Master:  

“A first assessment of the potential distribution of peatlands in Uzbekistan”” (Leonie Hebermehl)
“Identifying and mapping peatlands in the high altitude areas of South Sudan” (Rayan Madani) 

PhD: 

“Developing a tentative peatland map for the Amazon region” (Cristina Malpica)
„Analyse von Moordegradation und -trajektorien mit raum-zeitlich hoch aufgelösten Satellitendaten“ (Farina de Waard) 

 

Selected completed degree theses

“Mapping of the Venezuelan peatlands” (Cristina Malpica, 2019) 

“The global distribution of peat fires – causes, current hotspots and future trends” (Farina de Waard, 2019) 

“Mapping of coastal peatlands in the Caribbean region: Columbia and Costa Rica” (Laura Villegas Mejía, 2018) 

„Moorvegetation als Proxy für Treibhausgas-Emissionen“ (Moritz Kaiser, 2018) 

“Remote sensing based mapping of the Popondetta peatland, Papua New Guinea” (Felix Beer, 2018)  

„Naturraumkundliche Untersuchungen in Kubanischen Küstenmooren“ (Christoph Schaller, 2014) 

Citation

If not specified otherwise, please cite our products as follows: 

Based on data from the Global Peatland Database / Greifswald Mire Centre (year)