General Aim

The SDWA “Peatland Water, Carbon and Ecosystems Management Research Programme” aimed to support large-scale science-based implementation of improved water management and improved spatial planning of production and conservation areas in peatlands in Southeast Asia.

Problem Definition

Southeast Asia has 27 Million Hectares of peatland, which is nearly 10% of its land area. Uniquely in the world, these peatlands are covered with tropical rainforest in their natural state. Peat consists of 10% plant remains that have accumulated over thousands of years, and 90% water. Hence peatlands are ‘wetlands’ rather than real ‘land’, and they should be managed as such. However, rapid peatland degradation presently occurs in Southeast Asia. Peatlands are being deforested, drained and burnt for development of plantations, agriculture and logging. Apart from resulting in globally significant CO2 emissions, these developments also threaten the remaining biodiversity and cause regional haze problems (smoke), future loss of agricultural production (through increased flooding caused by subsidence), and increased downstream flooding. Peatland management has emerged as one of the major environmental and land management problems in the region.


Work Packages

Activities were organized in 4 Work Packages (field studies are in Jambi and Central Kalimantan):

  1. Development of spatial planning tools and training programmes.
  2. Soil and carbon emission field studies, focusing on the processes and rates of peat decomposition including microbiology.
  3. Ecology and biodiversity, focusing on succession in degraded peatlands and on biodiversity surveys in intact peatlands.
  4. Land use change monitoring and fire risk forecasting, focusing on application of remote sensing (satellite) techniques and on spatial analysis of patterns in peatland degradation and fire.


Principal Investigators: Aljosja Hooijer (Deltares), Lu Xixi (NUS)

Interesting Observations

WP 2: Soil science and carbon emission

The SDWA Peatland Programme established monitoring sites in Jambi, Indonesia. The sites covered the main land uses and water management types in peatland, allowing comparative studies of the effects of these practices on peat decomposition and subsidence. The sites also served as demonstration areas in a training programme that is developed in parallel. The work was carried out with the University of Jambi and receives financial supported by Singapore NEA. First results from the work are expected in 2010.

Activities within this Work Package:

  • Study A, D: Peat subsidence and carbon emission impacts from peatland drainage of peatlands –establish relations between subsidence rate, peat soil changes and water depth, accounting for differences in peat type and fertilization.
  • Study B: Wood decomposition – monitor decomposition in buried wood samples.
  • Study C: Soil biogeochemistry – investigate peat microbial community characteristics and functioning.
  • Study E: Lateral Carbon fluxes – study variations in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations in discharge from tropical drained peat soil.

WP 4: Monitoring and modelling peatland drought and fire frequency

With SDWA, Deltares has developed a method to monitor peatland water depth using TRMM satellite rainfall data and a water butget model. The results over 2002-2008 show that a distinct zoning exists in Sumatra and Borneo: water levels in the south of these Islands fall far deeper then near the Equator, where there is not such a clear dry season.

As water depth is directly related to availability of fuel for fires, a close relation between water depth and fire ‘hotspot’ frequency (as derived from MODIS satellite data) was found for deforested peatlands in the southern parts of Sumatra and Borneo, such as Central Kalimantan. This relation does not apply as much to areas that are still covered with natural forest and to areas closer to the equator such as Riau. Here, it is found that fire frequency is not linked as closely to hydrological drought but more to land management factors. In all areas, it is found that the location of fire starting points is linked to land clearing or other human activities: drought allows peatland fires but does not cause them.


Hooijer, A., Page, S., Canadell, J. G., Silvius, M., Kwadijk, J., Wösten, H., and Jauhiainen, J.: Current and future CO2 emissions from drained peatlands in Southeast Asia, Biogeosciences Discuss., 6, 7207-7230, 2009.

Presentation at International Symposium on Policy and Practices in Peatland Management, Palankaraya, Indonesia 24-26 November 2008

Presentation at Joint Indonesia-Netherlands Workshop on Sustainable Lowland Development, Jakarta, Indonesia, 20-21 January 2009
SDWA-NEA-JAMBI Peatland Project

The SDWA-NEA-Jambi Peatland Collaboration Project

The SDWA-NEA-Jambi Peatland Collaboration Project was carried out collaboratively by the SDWA partners (NUS and Deltares) and Jambi University in the Province of Jambi, Indonesia. The project started in January 2009 and was completed by December 2010. It was funded by NEA (Singapore’s National Environment Agency) as part of their wider collaboration on regional haze reduction with Indonesia.

The greatest number of fires in SE Asia that are contributing to haze are in peatlands, not on mineral soils. Moreover, peat fires cause several times more smoke and pollution per unit area than fires on mineral soils, because it is not just the aboveground biomass that is burning but also the peat soil itself. It is therefore important to reduce peatland fires if haze problems in SE Asia are to be reduced in the future. Reducing peatland fires requires an overall improvement in peatland management, as fires are caused by, and sometimes part of, poor management practices. Intact peatland forests do not burn, and in drained peatlands it is overdrainage that causes clearing fires to get out of hand. This recognition is the basis for NEA’s support for the SDWA-NEA-Jambi Peatland Collaboration Project.

The SDWA-NEA-Jambi Peatland Collaboration Project consisted of 2 main activities:

  1. Development of training courses and awareness materials for improved peatland management, with a focus on water management.
  2. Development of a hydrology and soils monitoring system at two study sites near Kota Jambi, to demonstrate the relations between peatland management and vulnerability to decomposition and fires, during training courses and in literature


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