Global Patterns of Metal and Other Element Enrichment in Bog and Fen Peatlands

Chetwynd Osborne, Spencer Gilbert-Parkes, Graeme Spiers, Louis James Lamit, Erik A. Lilleskov, Nathan Basiliko, Shaun Watmough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Peatlands are found on all continents, covering 3% of the global land area. However, the spatial extent and causes of metal enrichment in peatlands is understudied and no attempt has been made to evaluate global patterns of metal enrichment in bog and fen peatlands, despite that certain metals and rare earth elements (REE) arise from anthropogenic sources. We analyzed 368 peat cores sampled in 16 countries across five continents and measured metal and other element concentrations at three depths down to 70 cm as well as estimated cumulative atmospheric S deposition (1850–2009) for each site. Sites were assigned to one of three distinct broadly recognized peatland categories (bog, poor fen, and intermediate-to-moderately rich fen) that varied primarily along a pH gradient. Metal concentrations differed among peatland types, with intermediate-to-moderately rich fens demonstrating the highest concentrations of most metals. Median enrichment factors (EFs; a metric comparing natural and anthropogenic metal deposition) for individual metals were similar among bogs and fens (all groups), with metals likely to be influenced by anthropogenic sources (As, Cd, Co, Cu, Hg, Pb, and Sb) demonstrating median enrichment factors (EFs) > 1.5. Additionally, mean EFs were substantially higher than median values, and the positive correlation (< 0.40) with estimated cumulative atmospheric S deposition, confirmed some level of anthropogenic influence of all pollutant metals except for Hg that was unrelated to S deposition. Contrary to expectations, high EFs were not restricted to pollutant metals, with Mn, K and Rb all exhibiting elevated median EFs that were in the same range as pollutant metals likely due to peatland biogeochemical processes leading to enrichment of these nutrients in surface soil horizons. The global patterns of metal enrichment in bogs and fens identified in this study underscore the importance of these peatlands as environmental archives of metal deposition, but also illustrates that biogeochemical processes can enrich metals in surface peat and EFs alone do not necessarily indicate atmospheric contamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-139
Number of pages15
JournalArchives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Global Patterns of Metal and Other Element Enrichment in Bog and Fen Peatlands'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this