‘Big stride for Peatlands investigation as first project data is collected’

8th FEBRUARY 2024 – Darnell Christie, Communications Officer

On Monday 5th February, specialist teams from UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK CEH) and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) travelled to Horseshoe Bay Settlement on East Falkland to complete work in conjunction with our Peatland Greenhouse Gas Project.

The occasion marked a key milestone in the progression of the project which saw the first steps taken towards data collection.

Up till now, Project Manager, Dr Ben Taylor has been working hard to coordinate the logistics of the three-year investigation into peatland-linked greenhouse gas fluxes, whose key aims include improving our understanding of current greenhouse gas emissions from habitats; investigating the current and historical accumulation and erosion of peat; and assessing the potential for carbon offsetting in the Falkland Islands.

On Monday morning, Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and Falkland Islands Government officials, witnessed the installation of the project’s second flux tower at Horseshoe Bay, following the first equipment installation which took place on the weekend prior at Rincon Grande Settlement by UK CEH.

“Today, we’re setting up one of the flux towers and this will tell us all about the greenhouse gases that are coming out or into the peatlands habitats”, said Dr Taylor.

“We capture quite well all our anthropogenic emissions, but those from nature which may or may not be driven by some human activity, we don’t fully understand, and because there are huge areas of peat across the Falkland Islands, it could be contributing a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions to the climate.”

The flux towers – tripod structures bristling with sensors and used to measure an array of high-resolution data like soil moisture, solar radiation, wind speed and the greenhouse gas fluxes – mark the next step in advancing our knowledge of Falklands peatland environments.

Specialists from UK CEH install flux tower just outside of Horseshoe Bay Settlement, East Falkland. Each tower took around three days to install.

The project will utilise a total of four flux towers and a network of 20 smaller flux chamber sites (discrete points at which measurements will be taken monthly) to measure greenhouse gas emissions from across the Islands. So far, two flux towers have been installed at both Rincon Grande and Horseshoe Bay settlements, with a further two set for installation on Bleaker and Weddell Islands. The flux towers on the inland settlements will measure concentrations of greenhouse gases within areas of terrestrial white grass-type habitats, whereas towers on the outer islands will measure gases emitted within tussac habitats and assess the effect of tussac plant restoration.

Experts from BAS, also present on the day, undertook peat coring work which involved the probing of coring equipment several feet below the ground in order to extract tubular cores of peat.

“We can look at plant remains that have preserved in the peat and that will give us a record of vegetation change. This allows us to see whether vegetation has changed in the past and whether it differs from the modern ecology today”, explained Dr Alistair Monteath, Postdoctoral Researcher with BAS.

“This research will go to a nature baseline and provide us with an understanding about how these peatlands worked and functioned before people arrived and before we started influencing the environment. On the side of the natural systems, it’s really important to understand how we impacted systems and how they might behave if we returned them to a natural state – and specifically for this project, how these environments accumulate carbon naturally.”

Once collected, the peat cores will then be sent to a UK lab for full analysis, including bulk density, carbon content, radiocarbon dating and change ecology data.

Peat core sample inside coring apparatus taken at Horseshoe Bay by BAS team, showing peat (brown, left) to clay (grey, right) interface.

MLAs and other government officials joined the specialists and press to witness the work being completed on the day, and to ask further questions about the project. Falkland Islands Government (FIG) have contributed funding to support the purchasing of two of the flux towers that the project will use.

Portfolio Holder for Environment, MLA Pete Biggs, spoke enthusiastically about the project, citing links between environmental commitments made in the Government’s 2022-26 Island Plan and the project outcomes.

“My overall hope is that this will help inform our actions going forward in [climate] mitigation and adaptation and it will also provide scientific data that might have significance more widely across the world.”, said MLA Biggs.

“There are many [countries] that have a lot of carbon locked into their peatland, and everybody wants to know how best to ensure that this carbon stays locked in that peatland. The data arising from this programme will be essential in that direction.”

Going forward, the project will continue to collect greenhouse gas data over the next two years, with monthly sampling across the chamber network and regular data retrieval from towers also taking place. These data will be analysed to provide emission factors for the different habitat types.

Additionally, in the next few months, work will commence to assess the feasibility of carbon offsetting in the Falklands, considering everything from project opportunities to financial risks and legal concerns.

For more information on the project, why not follow us on Facebook or consider becoming a member of Falklands Conservation to receive the latest updates?

The funding for this project has primarily been provided by Defra (UK), with further contributions from the Falkland Islands Government in the form of additional equipment. RSK have also contributed by providing funding for a Project Leader to manage and deliver the project.