New study shows loss of Southeast Asia’s peat forests drives climate change

A new study by researchers in Singapore from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) uses satellite data to show just how rapidly Southeast Asia’s vital peat forests are being cleared, drained and dried out.

The paper, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, uses remote sensing to document how peatlands across Indonesia and Malaysia are sinking, leading to massive carbon emissions.

The study looked at 2.7 million hectares of forest—more than 10% of Southeast Asia’s peatland—and found that 90% of that land was sinking at an average of 2.2 centimetres per year. The research indicates that destruction of peatland is widespread, rather than limited to large-scale plantations.

Until now, studies of peatland draining and drying have required time consuming, point-by-point manual measurements, using poles stuck into the ground. According to study author Alison Hoyt of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, the new research represents “the first time that we can make measurements across many different types of land uses rather than just plantations, and across millions of hectares.”

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Skylar Lindsay