Scalar Simulation and Parameterization of Water Table Dynamics in Tropical Peatlands

Peatlands cover many low‐lying areas in the tropics. Tropical peatlands are intriguing systems because of their tight coupling between hydrology and carbon storage: They accumulate carbon over thousands of years because of waterlogging, and they remain waterlogged after growing into domed shapes because peat restricts drainage. This feedback between waterlogging and landscape morphology generates landforms with special hydrologic properties that enable simplifications of standard watershed models. In natural tropical peatlands, the water table is always near the surface and infiltration is almost immediate. In addition, water table fluctuations relative to the peat surface are remarkably uniform across tropical peatlands because these peatlands acquire shapes with a uniform topographic wetness index. In this paper, we show that because of these distinctive properties, simple hydrologic models that represent the hydraulic state of a catchment by a scalar quantity that describes total water storage are useful and physically meaningful in tropical peatlands. We demonstrate how to efficiently derive hillslope‐scale parameterizations of transmissivity and specific yield as functions of water table height for a tropical peatland from water table, rainfall, and topographic data. Our findings suggest that natural tropical peatland subcatchments could be usefully modeled as single hydrologic response units for river flow and flood forecasting.
  • Authors: Cobb, A.R., Harvey, C.F.
  • Author Affiliation: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Subjects: water table, peatlands, tropics, hydrology, rain
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • Source: Water Resources Research 55(11): 9351-9377
  • Year: 2019
  • DOI:
Latest posts


Founding member states
Republic of Indonesia Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo Republic of Peru
Coordinating partners
Ministry of Environment and Forestry Republic of Indonesia CIFOR UN Environment FAO