Increased losses of organic carbon and destabilising of tropical peatlands following deforestation, drainage and burning

Moore, S.; Gauci, V.; Evans, C. and Page, S. E. (2013). Increased losses of organic carbon and destabilising of tropical peatlands following deforestation, drainage and burning. In: AGU Fall Meeting, 9-13 Dec 2013, San Francisco, CA, USA.



Tropical peatlands contain one of the largest pools of terrestrial organic carbon, amounting to about 89,000 teragrams. Approximately 65% of this carbon store is in Indonesia, where extensive anthropogenic degradation in the form of deforestation, drainage and associated fire is converting it into a globally significant source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Unlike boreal and temperate forests and higher-latitude wetlands, however, the loss of fluvial organic carbon from tropical peats has yet to be fully quantified. Here, we present the first data from intact and degraded peat swamp forest (PSF) catchments in Central Kalimantan, Borneo, that indicate a doubling of fluvial organic carbon losses from tropical peatlands following deforestation and drainage. Through carbon-14 dating of dissolved organic carbon (DO14C), we find that leaching of DOC from intact PSF is derived mainly from recent primary production. In contrast, DOC from disturbed PSF consists mostly of much older carbon from deep within the peat column. When we include this fluvial carbon loss, which is often ignored in peatland carbon budgets, we find that it increases the estimate of total carbon lost from the disturbed peatlands in our study by 22%. We further estimate that since 1990, peatland disturbance has resulted in a 32% increase in fluvial organic carbon flux from Southeast Asia - an increase that equates to more than half of the entire annual fluvial organic carbon flux from all European peatlands. Finally, we monitored fluvial organic carbon fluxes following large-scale peatland fires in 2009/10 within the study sub-catchments and found fluvial carbon fluxes to be 30-70% larger in the fire-affected catchments when compared to fluxes during the same interval in the previous year (pre-fire). This is in marked contrast to the intact catchment (control/no fire) where there were no differences observed in fluxes 'pre to post fire years'. Our sub-catchment findings were also found to be representative at a larger river basin scale and we estimate the fluvial carbon flux from the Sebangau River basin (5,200 km2) to the Java Sea to be 0.58 Tg year-1. This is a 25% increase on the flux calculated for the River Sebangau the preceding year (pre-fire; 0.46 Tg). These new data are the first to demonstrate a large and sustained pulse of fluvial carbon following large scale human-induced fires in carbon rich tropical PSF.

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