High on the Andean watershed, a cloud born in the Amazon billows up and over the watershed divide dumping water onto lawns of bright green Sphagnum moss, dotted with cushion plants and the tall stems of Espeletia plants. These peatlands store huge volumes of water that is filtered through to deep aquifers that daily supply water to the seasonally dry Andean cities of Quito, Bogota, Lima and Medellin. The paramo grasslands and wetlands are highly valued for their life-giving waters.
On the moors above Manchester, also sustained by water from upland peatlands, it is another cloudy scene. But this is a Sunday and the moors are full of walkers, enjoying the open scenery far from urban squeeze in the sprawling towns and cities now far below them.
On the other side of the globe, the ‘man of the forest’ – orang-utan – sits towards the top of a thin tree characteristic of this part of the peat swamp forest that stretches many tens of kilometres between the main rivers. His wide cheek flaps and the wisdom in his eyes shows that this animal is old. He shifts his weight to bend the stem of the tree down to a fruit-laden tree across the railway line, seemingly oblivious to the orang putihs – ‘white men’ – watching from the logging line that might spell his end.
Far away in Northern Canada, the carpet of Sphagnum dotted with shrubs and the odd tree, is unremarkable – part of a vast expanse of peatland stretching over many millions of square kilometres. The Sphagnum moss grows slowly in the warmth of the short summer absorbing minute quantities of carbon dioxide with an even tinier amount left in the waterlogged soil as undecayed plant matter – peat. But over time, this vast peat bog absorbs huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: a natural carbon capture and sequestration system that costs society nothing to build.
In 1982, an earth dam within the United States Rocky Mountain National Park collapsed, resulting in the sudden release of nearly one million cubic metres of water. A wall of water up to 10 m in height swept downstream, entering Fall River at Horseshoe Park.