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School of Geography

Jiren Xu Jiren Xu

Contact details

School of Geography
University of Leeds
University Road
Leeds LS2 9JT   UK



Project title

The role of peatlands in global water resource provision

Project overview

Globally, peatlands cover over 4 million km2 (Kaat and Joosten, 2008) and represent at least a third of the global wetland resource (Parish et al., 2008), or approximately 3% of the global total land area. It is estimated that peatlands store over a third of the world’s soil carbon (Yu, 2012). As well as providing an important carbon storage function, peatlands are important freshwater stores. For example, Bartalev et al. (2004) estimated that peatlands hold approximately 10% of the global freshwater, although this estimate is highly uncertain and much of this water may not be readily available as a resource. Water provision and regulation are commonly stated ecosystem functions of peatlands, and there is much evidence that peatlands play important roles in human water use no matter whether in high latitude zones or the tropics, at headwaters or downstream, especially in densely-populated areas (Butcher, 1995; Miettinen et al., 1997; Marc and Hurst, 2010). However, to date, there has been no work to quantify the water resources derived from peatlands on a global scale. In addition, peatlands are threatened globally by climate change; and locally by severe anthropogenic pressures (e.g. drainage, resource extraction, burning, agriculture) to meet the increasing demand of water, food, and energy due to population growth and development. All of these disturbances may affect peatland hydrology and water quality. However, no global-scale work has been done to link peatland water resources data to peatland degradation caused by environmental change. This could be vital information for global and national policy makers and may also help provide underpinning support for further peatland protection and restoration.


The overall aim of this project is to investigate the role of peatlands in providing global and regional water resources, and understand the potential threat to these water resources from future climate change and land management activities.

The central questions of this study are: i) Which catchments are the most important for water resources provision from peatlands? ii) What are the effects of land management activities on water supply and water quality of peatlands in these catchments? iii) What will be the likely effect of future climate and land management activities on peatland water resources in these catchments?


  • University of Leeds & Chinese Scholarships Council


Xu J, Morris PJ, Liu J, Holden J (2018) Hotspots of peatland-derived potable water use identified by global analysisNature Sustainability, 1: 246–253. Access without subscription: DOI: 10.1038/s41893-018-0064-6

Xu J, Morris PJ, Liu J, Holden J (2018) PEATMAP: Refining estimates of global peatland distribution based on a meta-analysisCatena, 160: 134–140. DOI: 10.1016/j.catena.2017.09.010



Xu J, Morris PJ, Holden J. How important are peatlands globally in providing drinking water resources?[C]//EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts. 2017, 19: 10321.