While surveying the Angolan Highlands, scientists discovered deposits of peat that filter and feed clean water into the Okavango River Delta.
For thousands of years these peatlands have been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they're currently threatened by human impact. Now there's a new partnership to protect them.
We were expecting a river here and we didn’t find one.
In 2015, a group of scientists began a comprehensive survey of the little known Angolan highlands. The plan was to travel thousands of kilometers down river from the source lakes to Botswana’s Okavango Delta to learn more about this critical ecosystem.
Just days after launching canoes from the lake, the team found only a small stream – not enough to float their 400 kilogram boats.
But there are no other options. There is no vehicle. Drop-off point. There is no other way for us to get to the water we can use.
But an almost expedition-ending problem became an important scientific discovery.
The soggy terrain the team was dragging its boats across wasn’t blocking the river from its source, it was bridging it .
They were trekking across peat – vegetation, able to hold ten times its weight in water. Like a 1,600-square-kilometer-sponge, these peat deposits are filtering and feeding pristine water into the Okavango.
This steady release ensures that even in drier years, the water keeps flowing. One, two, three. On the water. Yay! Since then, the team has conducted more in-depth studies of the peat. C'mon. C'mon. Yes! Years of collecting samples and radiocarbon dating have revealed that for thousands of years this living landscape has been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate the global effects of climate change. Thousands of tons of carbon are being sequestered by the Angolan highlands each year. But they’ve also discovered that these critical peat ecosystems are threatened by human impacts like fires and encroaching agriculture.
We’ve only begun to understand these peatlands. National Geographic and De Beers’ Okavango Eternal partnership is supporting PhD researchers to study and map the area. Providing evidence about why and how to protect these peatlands; the biodiversity they support, and the water and carbon they regulate.
Okavango Eternal will use these findings to inform the creation of conserved areas, which are supported by local communities. Not only helping to protect the peatland sand the rest of the Okavango Basin, but also creating sustainable livelihood opportunities for the people who rely on it.
1. What was the plan of a group of scientist in 2015?
2. What did Scientist discover?
3. What has peatlands have been absorbing for thousands of years?