Peat and Carbon: imagine an A4 box, fill it with peat and store 4 ounces of carbon

I have been trying to understand the scale of carbon storage in peat this evening.

The National Trust website told me that one cubic metre of peat can store about 100 kg of carbon.  It went on to say that this amount of carbon is produced by a car travelling 2,000 miles.  I wanted to get these figures into some sort of perspective, so here is what I did.

  • It’s 400 miles from London to Glasgow, so 2,000 miles is 5 trips between these two cities.

But just what does 100 kg of carbon in one cubic metre look like?  I took a piece of A4 paper and made a small container by drawing parellel lines 70 mm in from each edge:

Cutting the paper

Next I folded the paper into a small box:

The small box made from A4 paper

The volume of this small box is 769 cu cm, or about 1/1000th of a cubic metre.  For wet peat, that’s about 1.1 kg of peat (see here for peat‘s bulk density)

At 100 kg of carbon per cubic metre, that means this little box would hold about 100 grammes of carbon.  Hand-rolling and pipe tobacco used to come in 25 and 50 gramme tins (previously 1 ounce and 2 ounces).  Here’s a picture to give an idea of this:

Two tins of pipe tobacco = 100 grammes

And here are the two tins in the small box:

This much carbon in this much peat

According to Natural England:

  • England’s peat stores 584 million tonnes of carbon
  • Peat covers 11% of England’s land area but much of it is in poor condition; only 2% is under active restoration
  • Deep peaty soils are classified as those more than 40 cm deep, but they can be up to 8 metres deep.  These cover 6,799 sq km.
  • There’s a balance between peat restoration by rewetting for carbon storage, and the release of methane by rewetting.  But the balance favours rewetting and carbon storage

So the next time you are standing on a peat bog, 50 cm deep, in size 8 boots:

Size 8 boot

Consider this:

  • There’s about 1 kg of stored carbon under each foot, or about a bag of sugar
A bag of sugar under each foot

Carbon storage in peat is one of the most promising ecosystem service business ideas in a report published last week.  It’s worth a look.

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