Southeast Asia — A global research team is to protect an area in Southeast Asia that stores up to 70 billion tonnes of carbon in its soil.
Led by a leading environmental researcher at the University of Leicester, the CARBOPEAT project will investigate the Carbon-Climate-Human Relationships of Tropical Peat lands.
Dr Susan Page, of the Department of Geography, has been awarded 458,000 (£311,000) of funding from the European Commission for the international project involving partners from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Holland, Finland and the UK.
Dr Page said: “These peat lands are carbon-dense ecosystems that are extremely vulnerable to destabilisation through human and climate induced changes.
“Located mainly in Southeast Asia, they store 50-70 billion tonnes of carbon (three per cent global soil carbon) but poor land management practices and fire, mainly associated with plantation development and logging, are releasing some of this carbon and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
“The CARBOPEAT project will identify key issues and critical gaps in our understanding of tropical peat land carbon dynamics, analyse implications for policy, and formulate guidelines for optimising the tropical peat carbon store that can be understood readily by policy makers and decision takers in both European and Southeast Asian countries.
“It is anticipated that the project will contribute to future UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) discussions on reducing global carbon emissions.
Dr Henk Wosten, from Wageningen University and Research Centre in The Netherlands, said: “With CARBOPEAT we are in an excellent position to propel the necessary actions so that informed decisions on the management of tropical peat lands can be taken by policy makers.” Large reservoir for both biodiversity and carbon
In comprehensive studies carried out across the past 10 years, the global team of researchers found that the tropical peat swamp forest has an abundance of plants and animals, which includes the endangered orang-utan, and that the peat lands perform a range of valuable services, such as water storage, flood prevention and carbon storage.
And as the forest contains a number of valuable timber-producing trees, among other commodities, the peat lands are being deforested at an alarming rate.
The problems that exist with this practise are down to a lack of understanding of the peat lands ecosystem and fragility in the relationship between the peat and the forest.
Furthermore, in its natural state, the tropical peat land is a vast, globally-important carbon sink which locks away the greenhouse gas CO2.
But once the carbon allocation to the system is discontinued by forest removal and the peat is drained, the surface peat oxidises and loses stored carbon rapidly to the atmosphere.
The CARBOPEAT project will play a critical role in bringing this information to a wider audience by providing sufficient information and insight on tropical peat and peatland to enable stakeholders to understand this ecosystem and its derivatives better, to anticipate problems before they arise and to put principles of wise use into effect.
Professor Jack Rieley of the University of Nottingham, who has studied the ecology and natural resource functions of tropical peat lands, commented: “Peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia are one of the last wildernesses on this planet with a large reservoir of biodiversity and carbon, both of which are being destroyed needlessly without producing socio-economic benefits.”