UvA participates in the largest peatland experiment in the world

18 February 2011

Together with Radboud University Nijmegen, Utrecht University and consultancy & engineering firms Witteveen+Bos and Tauw, The Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) started the largest peatland experiment in the world. The study aims to unravel the key mechanisms controlling recovery and development of peat lands and is funded by the Dutch Stichting voor de Technische Wetenschappen (STW) and the city of Amsterdam.

Together with Radboud University Nijmegen, Utrecht University and consultancy & engineering firms Witteveen+Bos and Tauw, The Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) started the largest peatland experiment in the world. The study aims to unravel the key mechanisms controlling recovery and development of peat lands and is funded by the Dutch Stichting voor de Technische Wetenschappen (STW) and the city of Amsterdam.

Peatlands have been used for many purposes in the past, ranging from peat mining for fuel to dumping of garbage and chemical waste. The total cleanup of the hazardous waste in the largest toxic waste area of the Netherlands and most heavily contaminated area in Western Europe, the Volgermeer Polder near Amsterdam, appeared to be impracticable and risky. Therefore, a novel approach has been chosen which involves covering the waste with special foil and sand. The natural vegetation in the Volgermeer Polder consisted of peat wetlands, however, and there was a strong plead from society to redevelop a natural vegetation cover. In response, the PeatCap research project was set-up to investigate the challenges of rehabilitation of peatlands in general, and the restoration of the orginal capacity of the Volgermeer Polder to grow peat in particular.

Rehabilitation of peat lands, i.e. not only the realization of actual vegetation types but also of peat formation, poses several problems and has been shown in the past to be a great challenge. If nutrient availability is very low, plant production will be limited and hence peat production rates will be very low. On the other hand, a high availability of nutrients from surface water or nutrient rich soils potentially leads to high biomass production, but decomposition rates will also be high preventing peat accumulation. To find the way out of this apparent catch-22, in the Volgermeer Polder the interacting roles of substrate, water quality, water table and key plant species will be tested to optimize wetland development and peat cap formation. To recreate realistic environmental conditions, the experiments will be held at the field scale in controlled, replicated water basins in what will be the largest peatland experiment in the world.

Within the research consortium, the Aquatic Ecotoxicology and Ecology (AEE) research group of IBED will investigate the role of invertebrates and bacteria in regulating the production and accumulation of organic matter (detritus) and the transition to peat. To this end a new junior research will be employed by IBED to perform the investigations in close cooperation with the other two junior researchers that will work at the Institute for Water and Wetland research of the Radboud University Nijmegen and the Institute for Environmental Biology of Utrecht University.

Published by  IBED