From carbon sink to carbon source: Extensive peat oxidation in insular Southeast Asia since 1990

J. Miettinen, A. Hooijer, R. Vernimmen, S.C. Liew, S.E. Page

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149 Citations (Scopus)


Tropical peatlands of the western part of insular Southeast Asia have experienced extensive land cover changes since 1990. Typically involving drainage, these land cover changes have resulted in increased peat oxidation in the upper peat profile. In this paper we provide current (2015) and cumulative carbon emissions estimates since 1990 from peat oxidation in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo, utilizing newly published peatland land cover information and the recently agreed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) peat oxidation emission values for tropical peatland areas. Our results highlight the change of one of the Earth's most efficient long-term carbon sinks to a short-term emission source, with cumulative carbon emissions since 1990 estimated to have been in the order of 2.5 Gt C. Current (2015) levels of emissions are estimated at around 146 Mt C yr -1, with a range of 132-159 Mt C yr -1 depending on the selection of emissions factors for different land cover types. 44% (or 64 Mt C yr -1) of the emissions come from industrial plantations (mainly oil palm and Acacia pulpwood), followed by 34% (49 Mt C yr -1) of emissions from small-holder areas. Thus, altogether 78% of current peat oxidation emissions come from managed land cover types. Although based on the latest information, these estimates may still include considerable, yet currently unquantifiable, uncertainties (e.g. due to uncertainties in the extent of peatlands and drainage networks) which need to be focused on in future research. In comparison, fire induced carbon dioxide emissions over the past ten years for the entire equatorial Southeast Asia region have been estimated to average 122 Mt C yr -1 ( The results emphasise that whilst reducing emissions from peat fires is important, urgent efforts are also needed to mitigate the constantly high level of emissions arising from peat drainage, regardless of fire occurrence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number024014
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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