Breakthrough technology has offered a much-improved method to map out peat forests that will help the government conserve the carbon-rich areas.
Using satellite-based data, based on technology that was created by the International Peat Mapping Team (IPMT), it creates a model that can be used to carry out on-the-ground measurements, through which authorities can accurately estimate peat thickness in areas across Indonesia.
“Our methodology can support work to acquire the topographic elevation data on the country’s peatland, including dome-shaped peatland, that can be used to understand the groundwater level and other hydrological assessments for restoration purposes,” said Indonesian peatland expert Bambang Setiadi who is also the chairman of the National Research Council.
Bambang is one of nine IPMT scientists from Indonesia, Germany and the Netherlands who won the US$1 million Indonesian Peat Prize competition held by the Geospatial Information Agency (BIG).
The other scientists are from Remote Sensing Solutions GmbH, the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology and Sriwijaya University.
Florian Siegert, an ecology professor from Germany, is also part of the team.
IPMT’s methodology — which is considered more accurate, timely and cost effective — will be adopted by the Indonesian government as a standard for the country’s peatland mapping activities in the future.
“Indonesia experienced a massive peatland fire in 1997. It was dome-shaped peatland that burned that year. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn a thing from the incident. That’s why a peat fire happened again in 2005, and there was even a bigger one in 2015. It all happens because we don’t understand peat domes,” said Bambang on Friday.
In 2015, peatland were responsible for 42 percent of Indonesia’s total emissions, according to the World Resources Institute.
Citing World Bank data, Bambang said during the devastating blazes in 2015, forest and peat fires released 1.62 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and cost the economy $16 billion.
As of today, BIG only uses light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology and traditional methods to map out peat areas. It takes quite a long time for the government to get the results of LiDARbased peat mapping activities, which are also expensive.
Although it is reliable and accurate, LiDAR-based mapping technology costs up to $7 per hectare or around $14 million to cover around 2 million ha of targeted peatland. This method cannot measure the depth of peat layers. Measuring the thickness of peatland is essential in conserving the area.
Data uncertainty, particularly peatland’s depth, has delayed measures to protect and restore Indonesia’s peatland, allowing irresponsible parties to continue destructive plantation practices that have often resulted in drained peat and fires.
“We have vast peatland. Maybe it is not difficult to map all of them because there are a lot of observation satellites we can use for the job. Our problem is in measuring the depth of the peat areas,” said BIG head Zaenal Abidin.
Bambang said that during an on-the-field method trial last year, the IPMT method could complete the mapping out of more than 14,000 ha of peatland in Kubu Raya in West Kalimantan and in Bengkalis in Riau within five days. “We could not only mapped out the peatlands but with this method, we could also detect and recommend bulkhead canals needed in the peat domes to prevent land and forest fires.”
With the technology, Indonesia will hopefully achieve its target to restore at least 2.4 million ha of its peatland by 2020 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent by 2030.
Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) head Nazir Foead hoped the competition result could support its works to protect and cultivate peatlands, curb fires and rehabilitate the degraded peat areas.
Established in January 2016, BRG and its partners have restored 280,000 ha of burned or degraded peatland or only 11.6 percent of the targeted areas.