In the United States, peatland is a less common, more technical name for a specific kind of wetland, the peat bog. Sixty percent of the wetlands on Earth are made of peat. Peatlands are generally in higher latitudes— the upper Midwest, upstate New York, and Canada, for instance—the result of glacial melt at the end of the last ice age. Peat is predominantly plant matter (much of which is sphagnum moss, but peat also contains trees, grass, and the insects and animals that lived in them) that has failed to decompose due to moist conditions, most often because of the high acidity created by waterlogging. In North America peat is found in remnant glacial areas like the Finger Lakes of New York State. Referring to the notorious fact that a peat bog is a trap for anything that walks, one text from the New York State Museum described how scientists “have frequently found wooly mammoth and mastodon skeletons in peat bogs at the bottom of these meltwater channels” near Syracuse. A peatland is the first stage in the formation of coal, hence ultimately diamond. In 2004, the uncontrolled burning of peatland in Indonesia was believed by some in the scientific community to be a significant factor in the dramatic rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There is also recent concern about the imminent release of high levels of carbon into the atmosphere by the rapid thawing of permafrost into peatland now taking place in the Arctic.

Susan Brind Morrow