African Tropical Rainforest Observation Network

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  • January 2012 - May 2014
  • Republic of Congo
Field team and their leader, Greta Dargie, looking for Peat, Rep. Congo (photo: Simon Lewis 2014)

Between January 2012 and May 2014 three field expeditions took place in the Likouala Department, in the north of the Republic of Congo, as part of the PhD project of University of Leeds student, Greta Dargie. The project aimed to determine whether peat was present in the wetlands of the central Congo Basin and if so, to quantify the peatland extent and carbon stocks and gain an insight into how these peatlands have formed.

Fieldwork was carried out in collaboration with the Université Marien Ngouabe, Brazzaville, and the Wildlife Conservation Society Congo Programme, with assistance from many residents of the Likouala Department. Greta was also accompanied by her supervisors Ian Lawson (University of St Andrews), during the first expedition, and Simon Lewis (University of Leeds/ UCL), during the first and third expedition.

After using satellite data to locate regions which had environmental conditions likely suitable for peat accumulation, the objective of the first field expedition, in 2012, was to visit two field sites which were potentially accumulating peat. After confirming peat presence at both sites, data was collected on the peat and overlying vegetation.

The data collected in the 2012 expedition allowed a more refined search for new peatland sites within the region. In 2013, during a six month expedition, data was collected from a further five new peatland sites and one non-peatland wetland site. It was during this expedition that the team began to suspect that these peatlands could extend across areas of tens of kilometres. Therefore in 2014, on the final expedition of the project, the team trekked into the centre of what was suspected to be one the largest single areas of peatland in the region. During this expedition, the team were able to confirm that peat really did extend across huge areas lying between the main rivers of the region and found the thickest peat deposit yet, reaching 5.9 meters.

All three missions were a success and lead to the first estimation of peat extent and carbon stocks for the region based on ground data. It was found that the peatlands of the central Congo Basin are the most extensive peatland complex in the tropics at a best estimate of 145,500 km2, storing a best estimate of 30.6 Pg C.