Tuesday 10 January 2012

Wiley, Windy Moors

The bleakly beautiful moorland landscape around Haworth obviously had a great influence on the Brontes and their writing.
The BBC nature website describes moorland as: "upland areas with acidic, low-nutrient and often water-logged soils. In their cold windy and wet conditions colourful heather plants dominate, growing on the deep peaty layers... Some 10 - 15% of the world's moorland is found in the UK, mainly in the north and west of the country."

I wanted to ask questions about moorland and the weather and how climate change is effecting the landscape around Haworth. So, i did a little research and decided to contact Professor Joseph Holden, the Chair of Physical Geography at the University of Leeds. I wondered how and when it was discovered that a change in the climate is effecting moorland; what are these changes and why does it matter; how important are moorlands to a diverse ecosystem and how is the research conducted.

Professor Holden replied the other day with lots of information:

As to your questions - the weather is one of the very reasons the moors exist at all. The wet, cool conditions allows peat and other organic soils to develop - this weather stops plants from fully decaying and so the peat builds up over time - thereby storing carbon - and thereby cooling global temperatures by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Changes in climate therefore impact the moors through time - and if you take a core of peat you can look back through time at what vegetation was growing and how the moors were different in the past related to different climate conditions. We have known this for a long time - I'm not sure of the first reference to it - but I have read manuscripts from 1757 for example that point out that peat isn't just the slime left after Noah's flood (which was one of the thoughts from centuries ago) because it actively grows/builds over time and can be measured to grow.

Moorlands could react to climate change in many different ways - some places may become drier or warmer and that would cause peat to decompose and be lost (ie shrink away or erode)

Moorlands are really important ecosystems for the whole of society - maybe you can watch some of our short films to find out why and also understand how we do research:






Best wishes, Joseph

Professor Joseph Holden
Chair of Physical Geography, Director of Research, Head of water@leeds

I'll keep looking at documents and websites with information about moorlands, habitat management and changes due to climate change - so if you know of anything i should look at please leave a comment with details - thanks!

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