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Research article2020Peer reviewed

Increasing contribution of peatlands to boreal evapotranspiration in a warming climate

Helbig, Manuel; Waddington, James Michael; Alekseychik, Pavel; Amiro, Brian D.; Aurela, Mika; Barr, Alan G.; Black, T. Andrew; Blanken, Peter D.; Carey, Sean K.; Chen, Jiquan; Chi, Jinshu; Desai, Ankur R.; Dunn, Allison; Euskirchen, Eugenie S.; Flanagan, Lawrence B.; Forbrich, Inke; Friborg, Thomas; Grelle, Achim; Harder, Silvie; Heliasz, Michal;
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Climate warming increases evapotranspiration (ET) more in boreal peatlands than in forests. Observations show that peatland ET can exceed forest ET by up to 30%, indicating a stronger warming response in peatlands. Earth system models do not fully account for peatlands and hence may underestimate future boreal ET.The response of evapotranspiration (ET) to warming is of critical importance to the water and carbon cycle of the boreal biome, a mosaic of land cover types dominated by forests and peatlands. The effect of warming-induced vapour pressure deficit (VPD) increases on boreal ET remains poorly understood because peatlands are not specifically represented as plant functional types in Earth system models. Here we show that peatland ET increases more than forest ET with increasing VPD using observations from 95 eddy covariance tower sites. At high VPD of more than 2 kPa, peatland ET exceeds forest ET by up to 30%. Future (2091-2100) mid-growing season peatland ET is estimated to exceed forest ET by over 20% in about one-third of the boreal biome for RCP4.5 and about two-thirds for RCP8.5. Peatland-specific ET responses to VPD should therefore be included in Earth system models to avoid biases in water and carbon cycle projections.

Published in

Nature Climate Change
2020, Volume: 10, pages: 555-560