Hydroclimatic vulnerability of peat carbon in the central Congo Basin

Yannick Garcin*, Enno Schefuss*, Greta C. Dargie*, Donna Hawthorne, Ian T. Lawson, David Sebag, George E. Biddulph, Bart Crezee, Yannick E. Bocko, Suspense A. Ifo, Y. Emmanuel Mampouya Wenina, Mackline Mbemba, Corneille E. N. Ewango, Ovide Emba, Pierre Bola, Joseph Kanyama Tabu, Genevieve Tyrrell, Dylan M. Young, Ghislain Gassier, Nicholas T. GirkinChristopher H. Vane, Thierry Adatte, Andy J. Baird, Arnoud Boom, Pauline Gulliver, Paul J. Morris, Susan E. Page, Sofie Sjogersten, Simon L. Lewis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The forested swamps of the central Congo Basin store approx. 30 billion metric tonnes of carbon in peat1,2. Little is known about the vulnerability of these carbon stocks. Here we investigate this vulnerability using peat cores from a large interfluvial basin in the Republic of the Congo and palaeoenvironmental methods. We find that peat accumulation began at least at 17,500 calibrated years before present (cal. yr BP; taken as AD 1950). Our data show that the peat that accumulated between around 7,500 to around 2,000 cal. yr BP is much more decomposed compared with older and younger peat. Hydrogen isotopes of plant waxes indicate a drying trend, starting at approx. 5,000 cal. yr BP and culminating at approx. 2,000 cal. yr BP, coeval with a decline in dominant swamp forest taxa. The data imply that the drying climate probably resulted in a regional drop in the water table, which triggered peat decomposition, including the loss of peat carbon accumulated prior to the onset of the drier conditions. After approx. 2,000 cal. yr BP, our data show that the drying trend ceased, hydrologic conditions stabilized and peat accumulation resumed. This reversible accumulation-loss-accumulation pattern is consistent with other peat cores across the region, indicating that the carbon stocks of the central Congo peatlands may lie close to a climatically driven drought threshold. Further research should quantify the combination of peatland threshold behavior and droughts driven by anthropogenic carbon emissions that may trigger this positive carbon cycle feedback in the Earth system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-282
Number of pages6
Issue number7939
Early online date2 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2022


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