1Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology, Wageningen University, Droevendaalse steeg 3a, 6708 PD Wageningen, the Netherlands
2Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), Department of Air Quality and Climate Change, 1755 LE Petten, the Netherlands
3Deltares, dept. Soil and Groundwater Systems, Princetonlaan 6, 3584 CB Utrecht, the Netherlands
4Hydrology and Geo-Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands
5Plant Production Systems, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 430, 6700 AK, Wageningen, the Netherlands
Abstract. It is generally known that managed, drained peatlands act as carbon sources. In this study we examined how mitigation through the reduction of management and through rewetting may affect the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and the carbon balance of intensively managed, drained, agricultural peatlands. Carbon and GHG balances were determined for three peatlands in the western part of the Netherlands from 2005 to 2008 by considering spatial and temporal variability of emissions (CO2, CH4 and N2O). One area (Oukoop) is an intensively managed grass-on-peatland, including a dairy farm, with the ground water level at an average annual depth of 0.55 m below the soil surface. The second area (Stein) is an extensively managed grass-on-peatland, formerly intensively managed, with a dynamic ground water level at an average annual depth of 0.45 m below the soil surface. The third area is an (since 1998) rewetted former agricultural peatland (Horstermeer), close to Oukoop and Stein, with the average annual ground water level at a depth of 0.2 m below the soil surface. During the measurement campaigns we found that both agriculturally managed sites acted as carbon and GHG sources but the rewetted agricultural peatland acted as a carbon and GHG sink. The terrestrial GHG source strength was 1.4 kg CO2-eq m−2 yr−1 for the intensively managed area and 1.0 kg CO2-eq m−2 yr−1 for the extensively managed area; the unmanaged area acted as a GHG sink of 0.7 kg CO2-eq m−2 yr−1. Water bodies contributed significantly to the terrestrial GHG balance because of a high release of CH4 and the loss of DOC only played a minor role. Adding the farm-based CO2 and CH4 emissions increased the source strength for the managed sites to 2.7 kg CO2-eq m−2 yr−1 for Oukoop and 2.1 kg CO2-eq m−2 yr−1 for Stein. Shifting from intensively managed to extensively managed grass-on-peat reduced GHG emissions mainly because N2O emission and farm-based CH4 emissions decreased. Overall, this study suggests that managed peatlands are large sources of GHG and carbon, but, if appropriate measures are taken they can be turned back into GHG and carbon sinks within 15 yr of abandonment and rewetting.