Peat or turf is a natural organic renewable resource which is of botanical origin and has considerable commercial significance. It is defined as a heterogeneous mixture of plant decomposed (to different extent) plant material or humus which has accumulated in the environment saturated with water and lacking oxygen, or “sedentarily accumulated material consisting of at least 30% (dry mass) of dead organic material.” (International Peat Society, 2012).
From available sources, one gets a detailed description of what peat is and how peat is formed. Specifically, the information provided by Russian Geographical Society allows defining peat is a combustible fossil. It is said peat gets formed via natural atrophy and helophytes incomplete disintegration. The conditions for peat to be formed include excessive humidity and absence of air supply. It is noted that peat is the product formed at the first stage of the process of coal formation. Dictionary of Natural Science says peat is used for fertilization purposes, as a fuel and as raw material for chemical industry. The definition provided by the Chemical Encyclopedia at the website of Russian Geographical Society describes peat as “a fibrous (low degree of decomposition) or pliable amorphous (high degree of decomposition) mass of light yellow, brown or brownish-black (earthy) colour.”(Russian Geographical Society, 2010)
Three kinds of peat are distinguished depending on peat’s phytologic composition, as well as conditions of formation, physicochemical features, and stages of evolution of peat bogs. Namely, these include high-moor peat, valley peat, and transitional peat. Components of peat are organic mass (combustible mass), mineral impurities (do not exceed 50 per cent in peat’s dry matter and turn into ashes when burnt), and liquid (takes up to 86-95 per cent of the overall mass in natural condition) (Russian Geographical Society, 2010). In tune with this, Taylor & Smith (1980) describe peat as a “partially decayed plant matter”, “one of the world’s major untapped resources.”
International Peat Society (2012) describes the process of peat formation in the following way. Structurally, peat may be represented by more or less decomposed remains of plants or a colloidal and amorphic mass depending on a variety of factors. The warmer the environment’s climate, the faster is the pace of the plant material’s decomposition. In those areas where temperature is suitable for plant growth and not favorable for intense microbal activity breaking down the plant matter, peat forms the fastest. These conditions are usually found in the planet’s northern hemisphere.
Geographical Distribution of Peat
In the world, peatlands (areas covered or not covered with vegetation with a layer of peat naturally formed at the surface) are situated primarily in wetland territories of the Northern Hemisphere. There vast deposits of peat develop from the step-by-step decomposition of plant material under the conditions that are described as anaerobic and low oxygen.
From the data provided by the International Peat Society (IPS), back at the beginning of 2000s there were around 3 million square kilometres of peat lands around the world. This accounts for 4.5% of the overall Earth’s surface. Other sources say that deposits of peat cover nearly 2 per cent of overall land area, and their volume is around 4 trillion m³, which contains nearly 8 billion terajoules in terms of energy (World Energy Council, 2007).
The leading geographical regions in peat deposit have been:
- The Russian Federation and ex-USSR countries. They have accumulated 1.6 per cent of the world’s peat resources. Around 80 per cent of peat is located in the Russian Federation.
- Canada. It has accumulated 1.1 million square kilometres of peat. This accounts for 10% of the country and 2.6% of the world’s area of peat deposits).
- The United States of America. It has 0.6 million square kilometres of peatlands. This accounts for 6% of the country’s and 1.6% of the world’s area of peat resources) (Russian Geographic Society, 2010).