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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Assessing degradation of tropical peat domes and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) export from Belait, Mempawah and Lower Kapuas rivers in Borneo 

PI: Gusti Z. Anshari, Universitas Tanjungpura
US Partner:  Charles F. Harvey, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Project Dates: June 2012 - December 2015

Project Overview 

Indonesia Partnership Photo
Dr. Anshari’s student, Ms. A. Putri, measures pH and conductivity of water samples on the boat during the June 2013 sample campaign (photo courtesy of Dr. Anshari).

The tropical peat lands of Borneo and the rivers that flow through these landscapes are important for supplying natural goods, maintaining livelihoods, conserving biodiversity, and affecting climate. Peat forests and associated rivers provide timber, freshwater fish, and other natural products. Because tropical peats are only stable under water-logged environment, the climate must be sufficiently wet, or peat will not accumulate. Biodiversity also flourishes under a wet climate. Therefore, there is a strong link among sustainability of livelihoods, biodiversity, and the stability of climates. Increasing uses and disturbances of these peat forests and rivers induce degradation of tropical peat domes (including drainage), which leads to an increase of carbon dioxide emissions through the atmosphere and lateral export through rivers to the ocean. As a result, peat degradation not only depletes natural resources but also affects climate stability.
 
This project aims to link lateral carbon exports by rivers to characterization of peat degradation from satellite data and field measurements. The researchers will contrast rivers in North and South Borneo (i.e., the Belait River in Brunei Darussalam and the Mempawah and the Lower Kapuas Kecil River in West Kalimantan Province, Indonesia). Expected outputs of this joint research project include thematic maps of peat dome degradation and DOC fluxes from the rivers being studied. Although it has been recognized to be important, the fluvial export of carbon from tropical peatlands has rarely been assessed. In this project, sensors will be developed to evaluate DOC fluxes from these rivers to South China Sea with the aim of providing the first accurate measurement of fluvial carbon fluxes from tropical peat lands. This project also aims to increase awareness and knowledge of tropical peat lands, their role, and the impact of their degradation. For this purpose, a reference book and extension materials will be developed and disseminated in both English and Bahasa Indonesia. A multi-stakeholder workshop on the relation between tropical peat lands and climate change will be organized, and a website on climates and tropical peat lands will be constructed.  
 
Summary of Recent Activities
 
During the third quarter of 2014, Dr. Anshari and his team made substantial progress in identifying the specific characteristics of water impacted by degraded peatlands. River water samples collected in January 2014 were analyzed in the US and France for dissolved organic carbon content, dissolved organic matter properties, and trace element concentrations. Based on organic matter properties measurements, dissolved organic matter is processed within streams, implying carbon release to the atmosphere. Based on the analysis of trace elements, especially lead and its isotopic contents, the project members demonstrated that water from drained peatlands has a specific composition. In fact, this finding reflects atmospheric deposition of metallic pollutants. This is due to the fact that peatlands are special ecosystems that get their nutrients only from the atmosphere and thus register atmospheric pollution.

The team also collaborated with JICA to study tropical peats in selected areas in West Kalimantan. The target output of this study is to improve the existing peat maps of these districts, i.e. Pontianak, Kubu Raya, Kayong Utara and Ketapang.

Additionally, this period proved to be academically stimulating for members of the team. M. Nuriman and Tri Tiana Ahmadi Putri (Tya), who are both pursuing Master’s degrees, enrolled in the Soil Science Department and the Natural Resource Management and Environment Department, respectively, at Bogor Agricultural University (IPB). Nuriman is also redrafting an article for publication.

The team has a number of plans for the last quarter of the year including: finishing sample campaigns to measure peat depths and study peat properties on Mempawah Peat in collaboration with JICA; working with MIT to prepare joint manuscripts for journal publication; promoting the results of the PEER project to selected stakeholders, i.e. the government, private company and academia as well as attending symposia and seminars; and to continue supporting master and undergraduate students at Tanjungpura University in order to enhance their knowledge and skills at investigating peat properties and carbon flux from tropical peats.
 
  Indonesia Partnership Photo B
Measurement of peat depth, showing the boundary between peat and the mineral substratum (photo courtesy of Dr. Anshari).
  Indonesia Partnership Photo C
Undergraduate student Ilham measures water conductivity (in situ) (photo courtesy of Dr. Anshari).

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