Tropical peatlands and our climate
Tropical peatlands store immense amounts of carbon and are considered to be one of the globe's most important carbon sinks. These peatlands form when dead plant material is submerged under water and thereby preserved from bacterial decomposition. When the water table over peat is lowered, however, (e.g. for agricultural cultivation), peat becomes exposed to aerobic conditions, triggering bacterial decomposition, and emitting vast amounts of CO2 (among other greenhouse gases). Managing peatlands sustainably is therefore paramount to reducing emissions and mitigating climate change.
Sustainable management is no small task, especially in tropical peatlands where stress factors are abundant. Examples include agricultural cultivation on both smallholder and estate scales, forestry, settlement expansion, infrastructure construction and fires. It follows that conservation and rehabilitation - which focus on preventing and reversing peatland drainage - represent the only realistic approaches for sustainable peatland management. Once integrated, these approaches preserve peat carbon sinks and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in tropical peatlands.
Peat volume and carbon storage
Peat topography is the key
Tropical peatlands are typically rain-fed (ombrotrophic) and characterized by a dome-shaped topography (i.e. raised in elevation compared to the surrounding landscape). Peat depth is closely related to the convex shape of the surface: the higher the surface, the deeper the peat! Mapping peat topography is therefore key when assessing carbon storage in tropical peatlands. RSS employs LiDAR and RADAR technologies to map peat topography on both local and regional scales.
Planning peatland rewetting
Raising peatland water tables and blocking drainage canals
Reversing peat drainage through rewetting stops bacterial decomposition and reduces GHG emissions. Unfortunately, reviving disturbed peat hydrology is no trivial task - it requires precise topography, hydrological network, water table and peat characteristic data. When combined, this information identifies where a blocked drainage canal would facilitate sustainably raised water tables, and thus minimize GHG emissions.
Early warning and damage assessment
Peatland fires release enormous amounts of GHG emissions, thick smoke and haze. These harm the local population’s and economy’s health alike. RSS uses a wide variety of remote sensing tools to detect and monitor such peat fires, assess fire impact and damage, and quantify their carbon emissions. The resulting information helps decision makers plan preventative measures and combat peat fires on short notice. Ultimately, this reduces or even prevents the severe impact of peat fires on local populations and the global climate.