Global Peatland Database

Organic soil probability map of the Lake Victoria region

The Global Peatland Database (GPD) is a project of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) located and maintained at the Greifswald Mire Centre.

The GPD collates and integrates data on location, extent and drainage status of peatlands and organic soils worldwide and for 268 individual countries and regions. The database contains analogue and GIS maps, reports, observations, pictures, and is supported by the Peatland and Nature Conservation International Library PeNCIL. The GPD regularly produces integrative analyses including biennial worldwide overviews on peatland status and emissions and provides science-based, policy-relevant spatial information for:

• climate change mitigation and adaptation;
• biodiversity conservation and restoration;
• and sustainable land use planning.


The Global Peatland Database started in the 1990s as a project of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) with the aim to elaborate a worldwide overview of the occurrence of peatlands, with references and background information. The necessity of such overview emerged from the development of the IMCG/IPS Wise Use guidelines, in which the first global overview was published.


The 8th Conference of Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention (Valencia, November 2002) adopted Guidelines for Global Action on Peatlands (GGAP) to provide a framework for worldwide initiatives for peatland wise use, conservation and management. These guidelines recommended the establishment of a global database of peatlands and mires with baseline information on their distribution, size, quality, ecological characteristics, biological diversity, and stored carbon.

Facing that challenge, the Global Peatland Database (GPD) is today located at the Greifswald Mire Centre, coordinated by Prof. Hans Joosten and Dr. Alexandra Barthelmes and continuously developing and improving.


Undrained, intact peatlands provide many important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and storage, water regulation, nutrient retention, and provision of habitats for threatened wildlife (Joosten & Clarke 2002; Parish et al. 2008; Bonn et al. 2016).

Drained peatlands are currently responsible for 5% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, which is almost double the amount of CO2 emissions from aviation (Wetlands International 2015). Rewetting drained peatlands has therefore a large greenhouse gas mitigation potential.

An urgent need exists to identify the location of peatlands, to protect them from drainage, and to rewet drained areas to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.


Barthelmes, A. & Joosten, H. (2018) Guidelines for inventories of tropical peatlands to facilitate their designation as Ramsar Sites. Ramsar Briefing Note 9

Bonn A., Allott T., Evans M., Joosten H. & R. Stoneman (2016). Peatland restoration and ecosystem services - Science, policy and practice. Ecological Reviews, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 493 p.

Joosten H. & D. Clarke (2002). Wise use of mires and peatlands. Background and principles including a framework for decision-making. International Mire Conservation Group and International Peat Society, 304 p.

Parish F., Sirin A., Charman D., Joosten H., Minayeva T. & M. Silvius (eds.) (2008). Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change: Main Report. Global Environment Centre, Kuala Lumpur and Wetlands International, Wageningen. 179 p.

Wetlands International (2015). Briefing paper: accelerating action to Save Peat for Less Heat!


No globally accepted definition for ‘peatland’ exists. Various English terms (mire, marsh, swamp, fen, bog …) are used for naming different mire and wetland types (Joosten et al. 2017). To elaborate a global overview on peatlands the GPD includes all soils that fit into the broad IPCC concept of ‘organic soils’ with 12 percent or more organic soil carbon without a depth criterion (Hiraishi et al. 2014). This automatically includes almost all peatlands, histosols and other organic soils, and allows the use of diverse, historically grown national or regional datasets.

Relation between hydric soils, organic soils, peat soils and Soil Organic Carbon (SOC)
Common terms and definitions for ‘peat’ and ‘organic soil’

Many national approaches require ‘peatland’ to have a minimum peat depth of 30 cm and ‘peat’ to have >30% (by dry mass) of sedentarily (=on the spot) produced organic material (Joosten & Clarke 2002, Parish et al. 2008, Rydin & Jeglum 2013).

Peatlands belong to the organic soils (histosols), which also include soils with shallower organic layers, less organic matter, and a sedimentary origin (FAO 2015). (Undrained) organic soils again belong to the ‘hydric soils’ (wetland soils; USDA, NRCS 2003).


FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) (2015). World reference base for soil resources 2014: International soil classification system for naming soils and creating legends for soil maps. Update 2015. World Soil Resources Report 106, 203 p.

Hiraishi T., Krug T., Tanabe K., Srivastava N., Baasansuren J., Fukuda M. & TG. Troxler (eds.) (2014). 2013 Supplement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories: Wetlands, published by IPCC, Switzerland.

Joosten H. & D. Clarke (2002). Wise use of mires and peatlands. Background and principles including a framework for decision-making. International Mire Conservation Group and International Peat Society, 304 p.

Joosten H., Tanneberger F. & A. Moen (eds.) (2017). Mires and peatlands of Europe: Status, distribution and conservation. Stuttgart: Schweizerbart Science Publishers, 780 p.

Rydin H. & J.K. Jeglum (2013). The biology of peatlands. 2. Edition, Oxford University Press, 382 p.

USDA, NRCS (2003) Field Indicators of hydric soils in the United States, Version 5.01. G.W. Hurt, P.M. Whited, and R.F. Pringle (eds.).


Proxy data for occurrences of peatlands and organic soils

Detailed geospatial data on location, extent and drainage status of peatlands are rare and highly variable with respect to concepts, terms, completeness and accuracy. The Global Peatland Database (GPD) aims to fill knowledge gaps and to speed up peatland mapping and inventory.

Gaps in the coverage of geospatial peatland data can partially be filled by using ‘proxy data’, i.e. (mainly abiotic) features which indicate the possible occurrence of peatlands.

Suitable geospatial proxies
  • Bedrock: alluvial and lacustrine sediments and areas;
  • Relief and landforms indicating a surplus of water: depressions; floodplains and backs swamps along rivers; tidal flats and lagoons along coasts; high altitude gently sloping mountain valleys and volcanic plateaus; regular domes with con- and eccentric patterns such as raised Sphagnum bogs and tropical ,Peat Swamp Forests,;
  • Soils: hydromorphic, wetland, swamp and mangrove soils, muck or highly organic soils;
  • Wetlands: long-term water logged areas;
  • Vegetation: mangroves, salt marshes, grass and sedge dominated floodplains and valleys, freshwater broad-leaf forest (,Peat Swamp Forest,), palm forest, Afro-alpine Moorlands and Andean Paramos;
  • Land use: areas where agriculture is hampered by water logging, poor drainage, inundation, or areas with regular anthropogenic drainage infrastructure.
Maps indicating organic soils/peat (green) and proxy data (red) for Ivory Coast
Integration and evaluation of geospatial peatland data
Example: Evaluation of national peat and organic soil GIS data for the Nordic-Baltic countries

The GPD collects geospatial peatland data, analyses terms and concepts used, and evaluates their completeness and accuracy, using expertise of GMC members and international partners. The collated data are integrated in GIS to a hybrid, ‘bottom up’ peatland map with global coverage.

High resolution mapping of peatlands and organic soils

Despite rapidly developing remote sensing technology, peatland mapping still faces major problems:

  • All remote sensing approaches need sufficient ground data for calibration and validation, but geo-referenced soil profiles from peatlands with adequate carbon content analysis are scarce.
  • Major proxies for identifying peatlands by remote sensing are lost when peatlands are deforested or drained. Assessment of peatland occurrence in landscapes altered by humans therefore often requires the use of historical satellite imagery, that only goes back to the early 1970s with resolution decreasing the further back one goes in time.
  • Peatlands are diverse and used in very different ways. This hampers simple extrapolation of results and requires high resolution mapping.

We therefore developed an expert-based, manual, rapid, high resolution peatland mapping approach which delivers ‘peatland probability maps’, using available field data, specialised knowledge, and modern techniques (see the scheme of the mapping process below). The approach links various science networks, methodologies and databases, including those of peatland/landscape ecology for understanding where and how peatlands may occur, those of remote sensing or identifying possible locations, and those of pedology (legacy soil maps) and (palaeo-)ecology for ground truthing.


Scheme of the high resolution peatland mapping process


Current examples

Distribution and degradation status of tropical peatland types
(presentation at the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon 2017, FAO, Rome; for extended version pls. contact

The contribution of drained organic soils to the globally emitted greenhouse gases and global emission hotspots
(presentation at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2016, Vienna)

Mapping location, extent and drainage status of organic soils in East Africa
(presentation at the 15. International Peat Congress 2016, Kuching, Malaysia)

Briefing Paper: accelerating action to Save Peat for Less Heat!

Ongoing and completed projects

Selected ongoing projects:

MoorDialog (Deutscher Moorschutzdialog)’ (BMUB)

‘Practical guidance to locate and delineate peatlands and other organic soils in the Tropics’ (part of ‘The HCS Approach Toolkit: No Deforestation in Practice’)

‘Keep it in the ground - the global threat from peatland loss and degradation’ (working titel), a Rapid Response Assessment of UN environment and GRID-Arendal (contribution from GPD in framework of the Global Peatlands Initiative)

‘Remote sensing based mapping of the Popondetta peatland, Papua New Guinea’

‘Developing a new global organic soil map (incl. peatlands) based on available data sets’

‘Developing a pantropical peatland map based on eco-zones with substantial peat occurrences’

‘Global evaluation of ‚blanket bogs - in light of the nomination of the Flow Country (Scotland) as World Heritage Site’

Selected completed projects:

Contact & Citation

Dr. Alexandra Barthelmes
Greifswald Mire Centre (GMC)

c/o Greifswald University
Soldmannstr. 23
17487 Greifswald


If not specified otherwise please cite our products as follows:
Based on data from the Global Peatland Database / Greifswald Mire Centre (year)