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Research by geographers at the University of St Andrews has played a leading role in the international research effort to understand tropical South American and African peatlands.



Lowland tropical peatlands play a critical and, until recently, under-appreciated role in the global climate system. The largest areas of peatlands in the tropics are in southeast Asia, western Amazonia, and the Congo Basin, all of which have accumulated large amounts of carbon.



The research assessed the carbon storage of Peruvian peatlands, and subsequently applied a similar approach to peatland mapping in the Congo Basin. This work revealed the existence of extensive, previously unrecognised peatlands: a swamp forest of 145,000km2, an area slightly larger than England, which stores an estimated 30 billion tonnes of carbon. 

The team also undertook the first assessment of threats to the intact tropical peatlands in Peru. This work prompted a strand of research investigating the value of Peru’s peatlands to local communities.



In the Congo Basin, the discovery and mapping of peatlands led to the signature of the Brazzaville Declaration in 2018, an inter-governmental agreement to protect the central Congo basin peatlands, with the equivalent of 3 years of global CO2 emissions  prevented from being released into the atmosphere.

The results have leveraged the first UN Green Climate Fund (GCF) sustainable development project. Without the justification provided by peatland mapping, the project would have been ineligible for this funding.

The Peruvian Ministry of Environment used the team’s research as a basis for the first technical guide to identifying and describing peatlands across Peru.

Based on the research on the cultural value of peatlands, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture awarded National Cultural Heritage Status in 2019 to the textiles produced by the indigenous Urarina. 


More information 

Institution: University of St Andrews

Researchers: Professor Nina Laurie, Dr Ian Lawson, Dr Katherine Roucoux

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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Enhancing resilience, improving livelihoods and protecting carbon stocks of intact tropical peatlands in the Amazon and Congo basins. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>