Detecting tropical peatland degradation: Combining remote sensing and organic geochemistry

Tropical peatlands are important carbon stores that are vulnerable to drainage and conversion to agriculture. Protection and restoration of peatlands are increasingly recognised as key nature based solutions that can be implemented as part of climate change mitigation. Identification of peatland areas that are important for protection and restauration with regards to the state of their carbon stocks, are therefore vital for policy makers. In this paper we combined organic geochemical analysis by Rock-Eval (6) pyrolysis of peat collected from sites with different land management history and optical remote sensing products to assess if remotely sensed data could be used to predict peat conditions and carbon storage. The study used the North Selangor Peat Swamp forest, Malaysia, as the model system. Across the sampling sites the carbon stocks in the below ground peat was ca 12 times higher than the forest (median carbon stock held in ground vegetation 114.70 Mg ha(-1) and peat soil 1401.51 Mg ha(-1)). Peat core sub-samples and litter collected from Fire Affected, Disturbed Forest, and Managed Recovery locations (i.e. disturbed sites) had different decomposition profiles than Central Forest sites. The Rock-Eval pyrolysis of the upper peat profiles showed that surface peat layers at Fire Affected, Disturbed Forest, and Managed Recovery locations had lower immature organic matter index (I-index) values (average I-index range in upper section 0.15 to -0.06) and higher refractory organic matter index (R -index) (average R-index range in upper section 0.51 to 0.65) compared to Central Forest sites indicating enhanced decomposition of the surface peat. In the top 50 cm section of the peat profile, carbon stocks were negatively related to the normalised burns ratio (NBR) (a satellite derived parameter) (Spearman's rho = -0.664, S = 366, p-value = <0.05) while there was a positive relationship between the hydrogen index and the normalised burns ratio profile (Spearman's rho = 0.7, S = 66, p-value = <0.05) suggesting that this remotely sensed product is able to detect degradation of peat in the upper peat profile. We conclude that the NBR can be used to identify degraded peatland areas and to support identification of areas for conversation and restoration.
  • Authors: Brown, C., Boyd, D.S., Sjogersten, S., Vane, C.H.
  • Author Affiliation: University of Nottingham, University of Nottingham, UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), NERC British Geological Survey
  • Subjects: carbon sinks, tropics, peatlands, climate change, mitigation
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • Source: Plos One 18(3): e0280187
  • Year: 2023
  • DOI:
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