According to a recently published report from researchers at Moors for the Future organization, planting sphagnum moss on mountain peaks could save communities living downstream from flooding. The researchers claim that sphagnum moss is so good at absorbing water that during a storm, it can reduce the amount of water coming into a river from an upland by 65%.
Moors for the Future is a partnership between private and public organizations aiming to improve the conservation and environmental protection of moorlands in the UK. In 2016, the researchers associated with the group planted 50,000 sphagnum moss plants on Kinder Scout, a hill plateau located at a height of 636 meters from sea level, in a national natural reserve called Peak District. The goal was to build an “outdoor laboratory” and observe how the moss would affect the risk of flooding. Now, the results are finally in.
The unheard superpower of sphagnum moss
A sphagnum moss plant, whether it is alive or dead, can hold up to 20 times more water than its own weight. When grown on a suitable soil (as is the case in the British moorlands), the sphagnum also acts as a protective layer for the peat (organic matter) and supports the formation of new peat layers beneath it. This not only good because it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, but it can also help regulate water runoff.
In the Lkae District, the researchers noticed that the grown moss cover on the plateau has increased the time take taken by rainwater to reach rivers downstream by a staggering 680%.
This means that the speed at which rainwater reaches the river is greatly decreased, and even in times of excessive rainfall, when floods are more likely to happen, the risk of a flash flood is greatly reduced — and even if it does happen, this gives communities living nearby the rivers have more time to prepare.
While highlighting the benefits of sphagnum plantation on Kinder Scout, research assistant at Moors for the Future, Tom Spencer toldThe Guardian. The sphagnum moss plants have “far-reaching benefits for communities downstream” as they have turned out to be “a powerful tool in minimising the risk and severity of flooding,” the researcher says.
The researchers claim that sphagnum plantation is one of the most promising natural flood management techniques. It has the potential to mitigate the impact of climate change-driven calamities such as powerful storms and floods in catchment areas. Moreover, it could also provide benefits such as improved water quality since many previous studies have demonstrated that sphagnum moss has the ability to purify water naturally.
In 2018, researchers from Stockholm University came across a moss species that was capable of absorbing poisonous substances such as arsenic from water. The researchers claimed that the moss could purify the contaminated water and make it completely safe for drinking.
A sustainable approach for preventing floods
As compared to traditional flood prevention techniques that often involve constructing costly flood-proofing structures, planting sphagnum moss is a much easier and budget-friendlier flood management technique. Sphagnum moss can be easily grown in regions with wet climatic conditions and one can buy these super-plants from even a local nursery.
The approach highlighted by researchers at Moors for the Future seems like a great solution for communities living in catchment zones across the globe. However, we would like to point out that in the news release, the researchers did not mention if their findings were peer-reviewed or not.
Rupendra Brahambhatt is an experienced journalist and filmmaker covering culture, science, and entertainment news for the past five years. With a background in Zoology and Communication, he has been actively working with some of the most innovative media agencies in different parts of the globe.