Indonesia hosts the largest tropical peatland areas worldwide. These landscapes represent huge carbon sinks, formed over the last 15.000 years from deposited plant remains, which accumulate in water-filled oxygen-free depressions. During the last 25 years, peatlands have been intensively converted to agricultural monocultures and extensive plantations, accompanied by ongoing deforestation and peat drainage. Such non-sustainable management of peatland areas has led to devastating environmental, health, and economic consequences for people of the region and Indonesia as a country. Peatlands have been transformed from carbon sinks to substantial carbon emission sources. Furthermore, draining the naturally waterlogged ecosystems leads to peat loss and carbon emissions due to oxidation and increases the susceptibility to fire.
Forested land in Indonesia is traditionally cleared by fire (slash and burn) to open it up for oil palms and timber plantations. However, in periods of extended droughts, which are usually linked to El Nino episodes, fires often spread rapidly and uncontrollably over vast areas resulting in immense carbon emissions.
The fires leave vast areas of unproductive destroyed forests that are prone to recurrent fires. In a scientific study, RSS experts showed that with each additional fire, the forest not only becomes completely destroyed but also more and more of the peat layer is consumed by the flames (Konecny et al, 2015). The study used airborne LiDAR data to derive a pre- and postfire peat surface model. A strong interdependence between burn depth, fire frequency, and distance to drainage canals was observed. Up to 114 t/ha of carbon is consumed by a single fire.
In light of this development and response to the destructive forest and land fires in 2015, President Joko Widodo established the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (Badan Restorasi Gambut/BRG) in 2016 to restore and renature 2 million hectares of peatland. The goal is to turn the peatlands back into carbon sinks. In order to implement the regulations, an accurate map of the peatland ecosystem extent, surface topography, and peat depth are essential.
Peatland extent and depth are mapped based on topographic modelling in combination with field measurements of peat depth, applying the approach of the Indonesian Peat Prize winner. The work focuses on 106 Peatland Hydrological Units in the provinces Riau, South Sumatera, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and Papua.
Furthermore, RSS supports the planning of hydrologic restorations (rewetting) by identifying the location and number of required dams to prevent peatland drainages. The dam locations are determined based on the existing canal network and the peat surfaces, which are derived from a WorldDEM digital terrain model provided by Airbus.
These services provided by RSS will augment the standard and quality of existing peat maps, enabling BRG to improve the hydrological restoration plan and sustainable peatland management strategy to meet the 2020 targets set out in the Indonesian President Decree Number 1 of 2016 of The National Peatland Restoration Agency.
A further aspect of the extensive project is capacity building. Institutional capacity development and knowledge transfer are imperative for the results to be utilized and taken up sustainably. BRG staff at various levels is involved at all times, in order to maximize the utility of the outputs for the BRG strategic mission. RSS advises BRG on all crucial decisions. Training courses are given to BRG staff on applying the WorldDEM DTM, LiDAR data, peatland delineation, field data processing, and peat depth modeling.