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Subsidence and carbon loss in drained tropical peatlands: reducing uncertainty and implications for CO2 emission reduction options

Author(s): A. Hooijer | S. Page | J. Jauhiainen | W. A. Lee | X. X. Lu | A. Idris | G. Anshari

Journal: Biogeosciences Discussions
ISSN 1810-6277

Volume: 8;
Issue: 5;
Start page: 9311;
Date: 2011;
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Conversion of tropical peatlands to agriculture leads to a release of carbon from previously stable, long-term storage, resulting in land subsidence that can be a surrogate measure of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. We present an analysis of recent large-scale subsidence monitoring studies in Acacia and oil palm plantations on peatland in SE Asia, and compare the findings with previous studies. Subsidence in the first 5 years after drainage was found to be 142 cm, of which 75 cm occurred in the first year. After 5 years, the subsidence rate in both plantation types, at average water table depths of 0.7 m, remained constant at around 5 cm yr−1. Bulk density profiles indicate that consolidation contributes only 7 % to total subsidence, in the first year after drainage, and that the role of compaction is also reduced quickly and becomes negligible after 5 years. Over 18 years after drainage, 92 % of cumulative subsidence was caused by peat oxidation. The average rate of carbon loss over the first 5 years was 178 t ha−1 yr−1 CO2eq, which reduced to 73 t ha−1 yr−1 CO2eq over subsequent years, resulting in an average loss of 100 t ha−1 yr−1 CO2eq annualized over 25 years. Part of the observed range in subsidence and carbon loss values is explained by differences in water table depth, but vegetation cover and addition of fertilizers also influence peat oxidation. A relationship with groundwater table depth shows that subsidence and carbon loss are still considerable even at the highest water table levels theoretically possible in plantations. This implies that improved water management will reduce these impacts by only 20 % at most, relative to current conditions, and that high rates of carbon loss and land subsidence should be accepted as inevitable consequences of conversion of forested tropical peatlands to other land uses.

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