Indonesian peat fire carbon emissions vary considerably based on fire type study shows

Carbon emissions caused by burning tropical peatlands in Indonesia vary considerably depending on if the fires are initial or recurrent, according to new research co-authored by Professor Susan Page and Dr Kevin Tansey from the Department of Geography.

They also found that peatlands closer to canals have a higher probability of high frequency fires, which release harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The study, ‘Variable carbon losses from recurrent fires in drained tropical peatlands’, which was conducted with researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich (LMU) and published in the journal Global Change Biology, presents the first spatially explicit investigation of fire-driven tropical peat loss and its variability, suggesting that there is a strong relationship between burned area depth, fire frequency and distance to drainage canals in tropical peatlands.

Tropical peatlands store huge amounts of carbon as incompletely decomposed plant material that has accumulated over thousands of years in waterlogged, anaerobic environments. Under certain conditions, fires set to clear vegetation can ignite the peat, resulting in long-lasting and smouldering fires that release large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere.

Professor Susan Page from the University of Leicester’s Department of Geography explained: “Tropical peatland fires play a significant role in the context of global warming through emissions of substantial amounts of greenhouse gases.

“We showed that with increasing proximity to drainage canals both burned area depth and the probability of recurrent fires increase and present equations explaining burned area depth as a function of distance to drainage canal.

“This improved knowledge enables a more accurate approach to emissions accounting and will support the reporting of fire emissions.”