Faculty of Science
Department of Geography & Earth Sciences
MCMASTER EXPERTS PROFILE
Conducting field research experiments and laboratory studies to examine how drought and wildfire severity impact peatland ecosystems.
Damaged and lost peatland ecosystems have profound consequences for valuable ecosystem services. Wildfires, for example, can produce billions of tons of carbon. Air pollutants from wildfires, which are far-reaching, have already been responsible for thousands of deaths.
Canada Research Chair in Ecohydrology, Mike Waddington, wants to minimize these consequences.
Peatlands cover about 17% of Canada’s land surface and account for 10% of the world’s surface fresh water. Unique traits of northern peatlands, like the water retention of Sphagnum mosses, protect them from deep peat combustion and burning. However, northern peatlands may be at risk in the future thanks to warming and drying of the global climate.
Using an existing wildfire study site, field-based moisture and fuel manipulations, and laboratory experiments, Waddington is examining how peatland sensitivity is impacted by severe drought and fire.
Enhanced drought and drying conditions will decrease water levels in northern peatlands, shifting vegetation composition, and increasing the risk of burning. Greater occurrence of drought and wildfires can shift Sphagnum peatland regimes to persistent sources of carbon dioxide, limiting the recovery of mosses. This shift could cause further damage by triggering processes like afforestation, contributing to continued loss of ecosystem services.
Waddington’s work will lead to a better understanding of the processes that impact peatland resilience and the boundaries of peatland regime shifts, enabling better protection and recovery of these resources.