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Towards robust subsidence-based soil carbon emission factors for peat soils in south-east Asia, with special reference to oil palm plantations

Author(s): J. Couwenberg | A. Hooijer

Journal: Mires and Peat
ISSN 1819-754X

Volume: 12;
Issue: 01;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2013;
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Keywords: tropical peatlands | Acacia | subsidence | carbon loss | CO2 emission

Oil palm and Acacia pulpwood plantations are being established at a rapid rate on drained peatland in south-east Asia. Accurate measurements of associated carbon losses are still scarce, however, due mainly to difficulties of excluding autotrophic carbon fluxes from chamber-based flux measurements and uncertainties about the extent of waterborne losses. Here, we demonstrate a simple approach to determining total net carbon loss from subsidence records that is applicable to steady state conditions under continuous land use. We studied oil palm and Acacia plantations that had been drained for 5–19 years. Very similar subsidence rates and dry bulk density profiles were obtained, irrespective of crop type or age of the plantation, indicating that the peat profiles were in a steady state. These are conditions that allow for the deduction of net carbon loss by multiplying the rate of subsidence by the carbon density of the peat below the water table. With an average subsidence rate of 4.2 cm y-1 and a carbon density of 0.043 g cm-3, we arrive at a net carbon loss of ~18 t ha-1 y-1 (~66 t CO2-eq ha-1 y-1) for typical oil palm and Acacia plantations more than five years after drainage, without large differences between the plantation types. The proposed method enables calculation of regional or project-specific carbon loss rates to feed into mitigation schemes of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
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