Friday, September 19, 2014

Research in the Bog

Camosun bog was featured in the Regional Science Fair last year by young scientists Vicky and Hannah who are crazy boggers: Read about their findings below!

Peat Bogs: Contributors or Inhibitors of the Greenhouse Gas Effect?

If the temperature in Vancouver increases, the bogs will release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The ultimate goal of this experiment was to see if increased temperature would result in bogs releasing more CO2 than they absorb. We also want to inform visitors of the potential role of bogs as sources of CO2. It is worrying that the majority of estimates for future temperature increase do not account for all of the possible release of Greenhouse Gases (CO2 and CH4) through natural processes. Many “carbon sinks” are releasers of Greenhouse Gases, with peat bogs in the lead[1]. Even though peat bogs only cover around 3% of the earth’s surface, they store approximately 740 gigatons of carbon[2]. For comparison, this is the equivalent to up to 65 years’ worth of the global carbon emission from fossil-fuels[2]. It is crucial for people to realize the severity of climate change and the need for something to be done. There are countless contributors to climate change bursting forth in a chain reaction.
Human activity is the cause of the dramatic increase of atmospheric CO2 in recent years. It is clear that the release of CO2 and other Greenhouse Gases is having profound effects on plants, animals, and humans alike. However, many people do not realize that increasing global temperatures may disrupt the natural processes in which CO2 is recycled.
CO2 release from nature wouldn’t pose any threat under normal conditions. Unfortunately, increasing global temperatures may be causing our bogs to release CO2 faster than they can absorb it.  For that reason, the objective of this experiment is to find out if the release of CO2 by bogs in Vancouver is correlated with increasing temperatures expected with global warming. If increasing temperatures do in fact cause bogs to release CO2, and the release of CO2 from bogs does indeed cause temperatures to increase, we have a vicious cycle on our hands.

Introduction: Consequences of Climate Change
The issue of climate change is a source of concern for countries around the world; given the thousands of headlines bombarding us every day, people are not taking enough action to slow or stop CO2 emissions. With UV radiation in our atmosphere and an increase in Green House Gases, the world is undoubtedly becoming warmer. This presents many challenges for developed and developing nations alike as water resources deplete, agricultural methods change, sea levels rise, natural disasters occur, and political tensions escalate seeing that people start to contest for limited resources. Throughout history, human societies have demonstrated a strong capacity for solving various problems and adapting to different climate and ecological changes – whether it be by migrating to new areas, growing more suitable crops, or building different types of shelter. Climate change in the near future, however, is predicted to be unlike anything experienced in the past. The effects of climate change are not exclusive to one population or economic sector; rather, they have profound universal implications. Amongst these environmental consequences are socioeconomic, geopolitical, and humanitarian complications. There are numerous factors that contribute to climate change, but our project addresses one that is of great significance and yet often overlooked: the role in which peat bogs play in the worldwide warming of our globe.

Peat Bog Fact Sheet
  • Peat bogs=type of wetland found in colder climates + higher altitudes
  • Wetland=land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally that becomes its own distinct ecosystem
  • Peat bogs/mires/muskeg= a wetland that accumulates peat (dead plant material, often mosses such as sphagnum moss)
  • Low nutrient, very acidic conditions, anaerobic (little oxygen in peat bogs)=bacteria less efficient=very slow decay=large storage of partially decayed matter=large storage of carbon
  • 200 billion to 450 billion metric tons of carbon stored in peat bogs worldwide
  • Peat Bogs cover around 3% of the earth’s surface
  • Peat primarily consists of partially decayed organic matter
  • Each square meter of a peat bog contains anywhere from a few to many hundreds of kilograms of un-decomposed organic matter
  • They accumulate more carbon than tropical rain forests
  • United Nations Environment Programme estimates that by reducing global deforestation, especially that occurring on top of peat lands, could store some 50 billion metric tons of CO2, or nearly two years of global emissions
  • Peat bogs’ stability could be upset by the warming of the Earth, which has disproportionately affected the higher latitudes where the bogs are generally found
  • Although peat lands do emit methane—a potent greenhouse gas—this is more than outweighed, in terms of the overall balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, by the carbon dioxide they store/absorb
  • Peat is 95% water=anaerobic conditions= slow decomposition=stores organic carbon
  • The primary thing humans do to peat lands is drain them, often by cutting canals—65 million hectares of peat lands worldwide have been transformed this way
  • Reasons for draining peat lands: use peat as fertilizer and fuel

Our interest in peat bogs began in the early fall of 2013. We were introduced to the Camosun Bog “Crazy Boggers” Restoration Group by a friend, and we began as inexperienced volunteers who weren't able to recall a single fact about bogs. For four months we volunteered every Saturday at Camosun Bog with an enthusiastic and positive team that was willing to teach us about the bog. Gradually we learned about the bog and its cultural significance to the First Nations, historical legacy, and role it plays in the environment. Our appreciation of nature and understanding of wetland ecosystems grew tremendously.
            Eventually we began to wonder how climate change affects peat bogs, and whether the situation was different from forests in British Colombia. We were informed of the conflicting roles of peat bogs with regards to climate change, and it inspired us to venture further into this topic.

Our experiment seeks to examine our hypothesis in which we stated that bogs will release more carbon dioxide should the temperature in Vancouver increase. We have chosen to conduct this at a local scale as it was the most practical approach and we could deduce the vital role in which bogs play from our outcomes. We believe that peat bogs, although intrinsically beneficial, have been releasing Greenhouse Gases due to the warming temperatures as of late. This would be detrimental to our globe – since global warming is already a reality, it would cause the bogs to release even more Greenhouse Gases. To carry out our project, we obtained ten 1-litre jars half full with peat covered with a thin layer of Sphagnum Pacificum moss from Camosun Bog and put them under two treatments. Five randomly selected jars were incubated at 17oC while the other five were kept at room temperature (25oC). We were, indeed, correct in our hypothesis – the peat kept at 25oC released more CO2 than the one stored at 17oC. By placing a bromothymol blue solution in each jar and measuring the change in pH levels, we were able to acquire our results indirectly. This happened over a course of five days, and yet there was a significant difference already. With the figures clearly laid out in front of us, we can no longer wait in exercising then necessary measures in resolving this predicament.

  • Peat from Camosun Bog
  • Sphagnum Pacificum moss from Camosun Bog
  • 100 mL of water  10 (to moisten the peat)
  • Bromothymol Blue: 0.10 g dissolved in 16mL 0.1 M(Molarity) , NaOH and 234 mL distilled water
  • Each jar: 3 mL of bromothymol blue
  • Spectrophotometer
  • Room at 17oC and 25oC
  • Test tubes (12 in total, 10 in jars and 2 for water)
  • Pipette
  • Graduated cylinder
  • Centigram balance
  • 2 light sources

  1. 1.      Obtain peat and moss from Camosun Bog
  2. 2.      Allocate equal amounts of peat with minimal variations into each respective jar
  3. 3.      Put test tubes with 25mL of bromothymol blue in the centre of each jar
  4. 4.      Place small amounts of Sphagnum Pacificum moss on top of the peat at a 399:7 (grams) ratio (peat vs. moss)
  5. 5.      Randomly select jars using a coin toss to be put under 2 different treatments: 17oC and 25oC, 5 jars in each
  6. 6.      Leave jars under light source of 3950 lux (25oC treatment) and 3340 lux (17oC treatment) for 14 hours of light and 10 hours in the dark
  7. 7.      Put jars with peat and moss under their treatments for 5 days
  8. 8.      Take them out of their treatments and measure the bromothymol blue’s absorbance rate at wavelengths 555 (yellow) and 430 (blue)
  9. 9.      Measure them again after 10 minutes to observe any significant difference
  10.  Record data in Excel and use formulas to calculate the pH of each bromothymol blue sample


1.     More CO2 gas in air
2.     More CO2 in solution
3.     More carbonic acid
-         More protons released
-         Lower pH

Bromothymol blue at 25oC has a lower pH because it is more acidic with the carbon dioxide disassociating protons into the water.
Lower pH level = higher acidity level = there is a disassociation of protons = more carbon dioxide = carbon dioxide was released from the peat = warm temperature causes the peat to release more carbon dioxide than they can store
The jars under the 25oC treatment have a lower pH than the ones at 17oC because more proton disassociation occurred, thus releasing more H+ ions into the bromothymol blue solution and making it more acidic. (When it’s more acidic, the pH does down). In order to have released more H+ ions, more gas must have been present and the main gas that would be released by the peat is CO2.
When measuring the absorbance of bromothymol blue at wavelength 430, the peat under the 25oC treatment was found to have a higher absorbance. This indicates that the solution was more yellow than blue, which means that it’s more acidic.
Absorbance: Amount of light that passes through a solution compared to the amount of light that is passed into it.
Lower pH = more protons disassociated = more acidic = releasing more H+ ions into the solution = more CO2 for the protons to have come from
Absorbance of bromothymol blue at wavelength 430 is greater than the absorbance of bromothymol blue at wavelength 555 (at 17 C) because the solution was more yellow than blue
Discussion and Future Directions
During the course of the experiment there were a few factors that may have affected the pH levels obtained. There were no substantial errors made during the experiment, and there was a statistically significant difference in pH between the 17 degree and 25 degree samples. The pH of the 25 degree samples were lower – indicating that more CO2 was released. Therefore, the same conclusion can be drawn from the data despite these possible sources of inaccuracy.
Sources of Measurement Errors:
·         Centigram balance: + 0.01 g (used to measure the amount of peat and Sphagnum Pacificum moss used in each jar)
·         Spectrophotometer: + 0.001 (used to measure the absorbance of the bromothymol blue to calculate the pH of the samples)
·         1 mL Pipette: + 0.006 mL (used to transfer the bromothymol blue samples into test tubes)
·         Graduated cylinder: + 0.05 mL
Other Sources of Error:
·         Variation of the water content in each sample of peat
·         Variation of the water content and health of each sample of Sphagnum Pacificum moss
·         Possible leakage of CO2 gas from the glass jars
·         Temperature treatments may have fluctuated by +1 degree Celsius during the day
·         Variation in brightness of the light: 3950 lux at 25oC
·         Variation in brightness of the light: 3340 lux at 17oC
Future Directions:
·         Obtain glass jars or containers with a clear lid to allow the light source in through the top
·         Healthier and less disturbed samples of Sphagnum Pacificum moss
·         More consistent water content for each sample of peat
·         Perform more trials of the experiment
·         Less mixing of peat with air; peat must be anaerobic (otherwise, the decay of organic matter is accelerated and CO2 is released)
The result from the experiment supports our hypothesis. It was found that the pH of the 17ºC samples was around 7.1, which was higher than the approximate pH of the 25ºC samples (6.1). The 25ºC samples were more acidic (lower pH) due to the carbon dioxide disassociating protons into the water. It can be concluded that the warmer treatment resulted in higher levels of carbon dioxide.
            Since it wasn’t possible to replicate the exact conditions and the size of an average peat bog, the experiment was conducted as accurately as possible. There is one key difference between our setup and peat bogs in nature. The depth of the bogs and their ancient layers of peat dating back as far as 10,000 years couldn't be replicated. Their massive storage of partially decayed matter would likely contribute even more CO2. In addition, annual temperatures could easily surpass 25ºC consistently in summer months to come in the next 50 years according to Metro Vancouver reports on climate change.
In conclusion, the outcome of the experiment can be used to predict that warmer temperatures cause peat bogs in Vancouver to release more CO2 into the atmosphere than they can absorb. If this factor is not taken into consideration, predictions for future temperature patterns would be imprecise. All possibilities should be considered when dealing with a problem as severe and complicated as climate change.

The conclusion of the experiment should be taken as a precaution. It’s one more reason to combat climate change. When we began pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere we began to disrupt natural processes. Our peat bogs might be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unaccounted sources of atmospheric CO2.