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Hotspots of peatland-derived potable water use identified by global analysis


Peatlands cover approximately 2.84% of the Earth’s land surface and store around 10% of all non-glacial freshwater. However, the contribution of peatlands to global potable water resources is unclear because most peatlands are remote from major population centres, and until now no systematic, global assessment of peatland water resources has been undertaken. Here we analyse global peatland, population and hydrometric datasets to identify hotspots where peatlands are crucial for water supply, and show that these peat-rich catchments deliver water to 71.4 million people. Water-supply peatlands cover just 0.0015% of the global land surface, yet provide 3.83% of all potable water stored in reservoirs. Approximately 85% of all drinking water delivered directly from peatlands is consumed in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, meaning that peatlands play crucial roles in the water security of these nations. Globally, only 28% of water-supply peatlands are pristine or protected, highlighting the urgent need for responsible stewardship. Our findings provide global evidence for the often assumed role of peatlands in sustainable water resource provision and for informing peatland water-resource protection policies.

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Fig. 1: Global PPI distribution at the catchment scale, calculated based on the proportion of peatland multiplied by the population density for each catchment.
Fig. 2: Global PRI distribution at the catchment scale.
Fig. 3: Distribution of PPI hotspot catchments and their nearby high PRI catchments in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

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This research was funded in part by a PhD scholarship awarded to J.X., funded jointly by the China Scholarship Council (201506420041) and the School of Geography, University of Leeds. This study was also supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41625001, 41571022). The authors thank S. Palmer and B. Irvine for useful discussions and comments on an earlier draft.

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J.X., P.J.M. and J.H. designed this study. J.X. wrote the majority of the manuscript, and performed the majority of analyses. P.J.M., J.H. and J.L. supervised and co-wrote the manuscript, and provided conceptual direction. All authors contributed to interpretation and analysis of the data.

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Correspondence to Jiren Xu.

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Supplementary Note, Supplementary Figures 1–6, Supplementary Tables 2–8, Supplementary References 1–12

Supplementary Table 1

Global Peat Reservoir Index (PRI) catchments

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Xu, J., Morris, P.J., Liu, J. et al. Hotspots of peatland-derived potable water use identified by global analysis. Nat Sustain 1, 246–253 (2018).

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