Peatlands in Norway

The total area of cultivable land in Norway is around 12 500 km2 and more than half of it is forest land, while around one third is organic soils (peatland/bogs).

Organic soils consist of plant and animal materials, and therefore high levels of carbon, while mineral soil mostly consist of crumbled/weathered bedrock. By cultivating peatland we are able to increase our food production, but might also lead to territorial conflicts and challenge other societal interests.

Challenges for this land type

When peatlands (bogs) are drained and cultivated the ground water table is lowered resulting in more aerobic soil conditions. Cultivated peatlands are fertilized and limed, leading to higher nutrient concentrations and pH, and ultimately increased biological activity, faster breakdown of organic material, and higher CO2 emissions.

Higher nitrogen concentrations from fertilizer inputs (or from the degradation of organic material) leads to increased nitrous oxide emissions. The methane emissions are, however, decreasing in drained peatlands. The potential carbon loss resulting from the cultivation of peatlands is on average 55 tons C/1000 m2, but varies largely with the carbon content of the peat layer.

Cultivation of peatland can cause negative consequences for the environment by reducing the biodiversity, degradation of cultural heritage, increased water pollution and emissions.

Some possible solutions

Peatlands (bogs) can be restored by returning cultivated bogs to their natural state through sealing ditches, raising the groundwater level and reintroducing the natural bog vegetation. The aim of peatland restoration is to recreate the peatland soils’ ecological functions.

To reintroduce the natural peatland vegetation more rapidly during the restoration crushed Sphagnum can be spread on the soil surface. These mosses have a different growth pattern than vascular plants and can sprout from small plant parts. They break down more slowly than vascular plants and therefore have a greater ability to store carbon than vascular plants. Sphagnum also emits less methane than vascular plants.