A new approach to simulate peat accumulation, degradation and stability in a global land surface scheme (JULES vn5.8 accumulate soil) for northern and temperate peatlands

Sarah E. Chadburn, Eleanor J. Burke, Angela V. Gallego-Sala, Noah D. Smith, M. Syndonia Bret-Harte, Dan J. Charman, Julia Drewer, Colin W. Edgar, Eugenie S. Euskirchen, Krzysztof Fortuniak, Yao Gao, Mahdi Nakhavali, Wlodzimierz Pawlak, Edward A.G. Schuur, Sebastian Westermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Peatlands have often been neglected in Earth system models (ESMs). Where they are included, they are usually represented via a separate, prescribed grid cell fraction that is given the physical characteristics of a peat (highly organic) soil. However, in reality soils vary on a spectrum between purely mineral soil (no organic material) and purely organic soil, typically with an organic layer of variable thickness overlying mineral soil below. They are also dynamic, with organic layer thickness and its properties changing over time. Neither the spectrum of soil types nor their dynamic nature can be captured by current ESMs. Here we present a new version of an ESM land surface scheme (Joint UK Land Environment Simulator, JULES) where soil organic matter accumulation - and thus peatland formation, degradation and stability - is integrated in the vertically resolved soil carbon scheme. We also introduce the capacity to track soil carbon age as a function of depth in JULES and compare this to measured peat age-depth profiles. The new scheme is tested and evaluated at northern and temperate sites. This scheme simulates dynamic feedbacks between the soil organic material and its thermal and hydraulic characteristics. We show that draining the peatlands can lead to significant carbon loss, soil compaction and changes in peat properties. However, negative feedbacks can lead to the potential for peatlands to rewet themselves following drainage. These ecohydrological feedbacks can also lead to peatlands maintaining themselves in climates where peat formation would not otherwise initiate in the model, i.e. displaying some degree of resilience. The new model produces similar results to the original model for mineral soils and realistic profiles of soil organic carbon for peatlands. We evaluate the model against typical peat profiles based on 216 northern and temperate sites from a global dataset of peat cores. The root-mean-squared error (RMSE) in the soil carbon profile is reduced by 35g%-80g% in the best-performing JULES-Peat simulations compared with the standard JULES configuration. The RMSE in these JULES-Peat simulations is 7.7-16.7gkggCgm-3 depending on climate zone, which is considerably smaller than the soil carbon itself (around 30-60gkggCgm-3). The RMSE at mineral soil sites is also reduced in JULES-Peat compared with the original JULES configuration (reduced by g1/4g30g%-50g%). Thus, JULES-Peat can be used as a complete scheme that simulates both organic and mineral soils. It does not require any additional input data and introduces minimal additional variables to the model. This provides a new approach for improving the simulation of organic and peatland soils and associated carbon-cycle feedbacks in ESMs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1633-1657
Number of pages25
JournalGeoscientific Model Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 25 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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