Contribution of climatic and anthropogenic effects to the hydric deficit of peatlands

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The present study makes use of a detailed water balance to investigate the hydrological status of a peatland with a basal clay-rich layer overlying an aquifer exploited for drinking water. The aim is to determine the influence of climate and groundwater extraction on the water balance and water levels in the peatland. During the two-year period of monitoring, the hydrological functioning of the wetland showed a hydric deficit, associated with a permanent unsaturated layer and a deep water table. At the same time, a stream was observed serving as a recharge inflow instead of draining the peatland, as usually described in natural systems. Such conditions are not favourable for peat accumulation. Field investigations show that the clay layer has a high hydraulic conductivity (from 1·10−7 to 3·10−9 m.s−1) and does not form a hydraulic barrier. Moreover, the vertical hydraulic gradients are downward between the peat and the sand aquifer, leading to high flows of groundwater through the clay layer (20–48% of the precipitation). The observed hydric deficit of the peatland results from a combination of dry climatic conditions during the study period and groundwater extraction. The climatic effect is mainly expressed through drying out of the peatland, while the anthropogenic effect leads to an enhancement of the climatic effect on a global scale, and a modification of fluxes at a local scale. The drying out of the peatland can lead to its mineralisation, which thus gives rise to environmental impacts. The protection of such wetlands in the context of climate change should take account of anthropogenic pressures by considering the wetland-aquifer interaction. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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