In 2017 the first map of the peatlands of the central Congo Basin was published, showing them to be the world’s largest tropical peatland complex. Beneath the swamp forests in the second largest wetland in the tropics is 145,000 km2 of peat – an area about the size of England – that has been forming for 10,000 years, and currently stores approximately 30 billion tonnes of carbon – equivalent to 20 years of USA fossil fuel emissions. This talk tells the five-year journey to their discovery and publication concluding with the impact the new information has had on priorities for conservation in Central Africa.
Simon Lewis is Professor of Global Change Science at the University of Leeds and University College London. A plant ecologist by training, he focuses on changes to the Earth system with a central focus on the tropics. He founded and co-manage the African Tropical Rainforest Observatory, AfriTRON (www.afritron.org), a network of long-term tropical forest inventory sites across 13 countries in Africa, and co-manages the long-term forest inventory data repository and data management tool forestplots.net. His work on the Congo peatlands has led to new efforts to better manage them in both the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo.