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SE Asia’s damaged peat swamps could release 8.7 gigatons of CO2

June 1, 2016

SE Asia’s damaged peat swamps could release 8.7 gigatons of CO2

By Loren Bell, Mongabay.com
Wednesday 1 June 2016

Clear-cut rainforests and homeless orangutans make for powerful images, but it’s what you don’t see — hidden just below the surface — that may be the most sinister threat from tropical development. Long after the last tree is harvested from a peat swamp, decomposition of the soil continues to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, alarming new models show us how much is at stake, and how quickly it is being lost.

Just over half of the world’s tropical peat is found in Southeast Asia, where swamps began forming 6-8,000 years ago. The organic material accumulates at a rate of 0.2-2.0 millimeters per year, locking in large quantities of carbon. There it safely remains — unless the land is drained for agriculture or development.

By 2010, oil palm plantations had replaced 2.1 million hectares (8,100 square miles) of the region’s peat forests, while another 2.3 million hectares had been logged and abandoned. Combined, that is just smaller than Denmark.

According to new models published by a team of researchers with the U.S. Forest Service and Universities of New Hampshire and Oregon State, that land will release 8.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide over the next 100 years.

Read more at Eco-Business.

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