In a future warmer world, peatlands may change from a carbon sink function to a carbon source function. This study tracks changes in water-extractable organic matter (WEOM) after 1 year of in situ experimental warming using open top chambers (OTCs). WEOM was studied in the upper peat layers (0-10 cm) through analysis of water-extractable organic carbon (WEOC), stable C isotopic composition (delta C-13), specific UV absorbance at 280 nm and sugar composition of cores taken from an open bog (DRY sites) and a transitional poor fen (WET sites). At the DRY sites, the impact of OTCs was weak with respect to WEOM parameters, whereas at the WET sites, the air warming treatment led to a decrease in peat water content, suggesting that the supply of heat by OTCs was used mainly for evapotranspiration. OTCs at the WET sites also induced a relative enrichment at the surface (0-5 cm depth) of aliphatic and/or aromatic compounds with concomitant decrease in WEOC, as a result of decomposition. On the contrary, WEOC and sugar content increased in the deeper peat layer (7.5-10 cm depth) probably as a result of increased leaching of phenolic compounds by roots, which then inhibits microbial activity. The different response to experimental warming at DRY and WET sites suggests that the spatial variability of moisture is critical for understanding of the impact of global warming on the fate of OM and the carbon cycle in peatlands. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.