2 Minutes with Line Rochefort
November 4, 2013
Line Rochefort is the NSERC Industrial Chair in Peatland Management and Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences of the Université Laval and a graduate of Université Laval, the University of Alberta and Cambridge University. A pioneering leader and multiple award-winner in the ecology of landscape restoration, she founded the Peatland Ecology Research Group in 1993 and has led numerous successful research collaborations with industry, and federal and provincial government partners. While Dr. Rochefort is under no illusion about the difficulty of bringing disturbed systems back to a viable natural state, she and her colleagues have helped put Canada at the top of the game in developing new strategies to manage and reclaim boreal peatlands.
Contrary to what many believe, peat—whether for sod for lawns—consists of deposits of organic matter. In Canada, it is derived primarily from mosses that have accumulated, that are partially decomposed, and then have accumulated over thousands of years to form deposits that are four, five, six metres thick on average, but can be up to ten or eleven metres thick.
These wetlands cover only about three percent of the Earth's surface, but the ecological services they provide are considerable.
Canada is very, very rich in peat bogs, accounting for one third of the world's peat bogs. But what is troubling for peat bogs in Canada's North is that—I would say the concern is twofold. The first is related to global warming. Because with global warming, we have these deposits that may begin to decompose more, to release more carbon into the atmosphere. The second concern is that there are many economic activities now taking place in Canada's North—increasing mining activity, resource extraction of all types.
In Canada, we have one of the first research groups to study the ecology of mosses during the recolonization or regeneration phase. How do we restore a peat bog when we arrive at a site? Usually, the sites have been abandoned for several years. It is important to refresh the peat surface. The entire peat substrate is scraped to remove the crust that would prevent the mosses from making contact with underlying water.
We then collect plant material in peat bogs that will either be destroyed or, in the case of a surface collection, we only take the top five centimetres.
The third step consists in covering the mosses—which do not have roots or any means of protecting themselves from drying out—with straw mulch.
The last step consists of rewetting the peat bog by blocking the former drainage systems.
The funding I received from NSERC, I would say that the most important was perhaps the partnerships program. It made it possible to develop a true Canada-wide research team. It allowed us to become true world leaders. In the field of peat bog restoration, everyone comes to consult us. We have a lot of international requests for consultation and even research projects abroad.
Being able to work like that, in partnership with industry, allows us to solve practical problems more quickly, because we combine expertise, years of experience working in wetland areas, but we are also able to develop a scale-up that would not have been possible, just a group of researchers with graduate students in an experimental laboratory developed at a particular university.