Laboratory experiments on drought and runoff in blanket peat

  • Holden J
  • Burt T
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Global warming might change the hydrology of upland blanket peats in Britain. We have therefore studied in laboratory experiments the impact of drought on peat from the North Pennines of the UK. Runoff was dominated by surface and near-surface flow; flow decreased rapidly with depth and differed from one type of cover to another. Infiltration depended on the intensity of rain, and runoff responded rapidly to rain, with around 50% of rainwater emerging as overland flow. Drought changed the structure of the peat and the subsequent behaviour of the peat in response to rain. Surface runoff was reduced, infiltration increased and flow increased within the deeper peat layers. Old and new water produced from the peat during simulated storms was identified by bromide tracing; the amount of old mobile water flushed out of the top few centimetres was small and there was less from deeper peat layers. No significant difference in the old and new water mixing processes could be identified between the control plots and the drought treatment plots. Lissamine staining showed preferential bypass flow through macropores in the peat, though only in the top 5 cm. Following drought, however, macroporosity increased within the upper peat layers, and preferential flow extended deeper than in controls. Peat structure recovered somewhat after drought, but the effects of the drought were long-lasting. If these effects extend to the field during drier summers then we can expect changes to the hydrology and associated chemistry of blanket peat catchments in the British uplands.

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