Ongoing Indonesian Research by Dr. Mark Cochrane

Continuation and expansion to a national-scale of the “Filling a critical gap in Indonesia’s national carbon monitoring, reporting, and verification capabilities for supporting REDD+ activities

Incorporating, quantifying and locating fire emissions from within tropical peatswamp forests

Indonesia ranks as the 3rd largest CO2eq emitting nation, largely due to episodic uncontrolled fires within drained peat-swamp forests. Our original work (NNX13AP46G) set out to 1) provide extensive field investigation of land cover, hydrologic, fuel and fire dynamics in a 120,000 ha REDD+ project in Central Kalimantan; 2) Collect a new Lidar dataset to complement our existing 2007 and 2011 coverages; 3) Conduct groundbreaking detailed emissions field sampling of smoldering in-situ peat fires; and 4) Generate a fully parameterized and validated annual emissions model for the study region in support of its REDD+ project. Despite extensive bureaucratic and logistical challenges and delays inherent in working in Indonesia, objectives 1-3 have now been completed and the modeling efforts are ongoing with all necessary data now in hand as we complete the original project time period. However, our recent unprecedented emission findings (Stockwell et al. 2016), gained in situ during the height of the 2015 El Niño, have documented substantial differences between the actual regional peat fire emissions and existing emission factors, indicating regional Indonesian carbon equivalent emissions (100 year) may have been 19% less than current IPCC-based emission factor estimates. The IPCC emission factors are derived from one lab study burning peat from Sumatra (Christian et al. 2003) and considerable variation in emissions may exist between peat fires of Indonesia’s three major peat formations highlighting the need for the additional field emissions measurements we intend to carry out in the continuation of the project proposed here.

This work is expanding to a national level, our successful regional (Kalimantan) CMS project (NNX13AP46G), to better advance Indonesia’s Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) capabilities for peatland carbon emissions and support nationwide Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) efforts. We will implement our standardized field-based analyses of fuels, hydrology, peat burning characteristics and fire emissions, developed from our ongoing work in a 120,000 ha REDD+ project, to regionally parameterize our peatland emissions model for all of Indonesia’s major peatland areas by including three new locations, Riau and Jambi (Sumatra) and Western Papua (Papua), for inclusion within the Indonesian National Carbon Accounting System (INCAS). We will conduct on-site whole air sampling of natural peat smoke plumes in situ for precise measurement of non-reactive greenhouse gases, collect peat samples just in front of these active peat fires, and burn the samples in the US while measuring aerosol mass and optical properties and reactive gases. This will create comprehensive and pertinent emissions factors (EFs) for each study region that will be critically important for assessing health impacts and total global warming potential (GWP) of these emissions. Remotely sensed land cover/change (Landsat) and surface fire ignition timing and locations (MODIS) provide spatial and temporal drivers for the modelled emissions that will now be validated/constrained at a national level using biomass burning emissions estimations derived from Visible/Infrared Imager and Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on board the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite and the new Japanese Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (Himawari-8). Multiple lidar datasets (2014, 2011, 2007) for Kalimantan are being used to quantify model accuracy, and new work will be undertaken to quantify uncertainty in our most recent lidar-based digital terrain model (DTM), further improving assessments of modelling errors.

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Land-use transitions in Indonesian peatlands

Indonesia’s tropical peatlands are essential for stabilizing global climate and conserving biodiversity. These peatlands cover an estimated 200,000 km2 , are biodiversity hotspots, and comprise a 57 Gt carbon reservoir. In recent years, these forested ecosystems have been rapidly degraded through unsustainable logging, drainage, conversion to agriculture and wildfire, leaving only 6% of peatlands unaffected by development. Due to rapid expansion and poor predictability, smallholder oil palm plantations are of particular interest. Indonesia’s oil palm has expanded from 70,000 ha in 1961 to 11.8 million ha in 2016, due to strong global demand for vegetable oil and biofuel. It is now the largest producer in the world. Smallholder farmers manage half the oil palm area in Indonesia, with a greater expansion rate (11%) than large-scale plantations (5%). The economic and policy forces driving oil palm expansion are evolving, but include both local and global factors.

The key objectives of this proposal are to understand historical and projected impacts of smallholder oil palm agriculture on Indonesian tropical peatlands and related impacts on aspects of landscape sustainability. To achieve these objectives, we plan to monitor and characterize the land-use and land-cover changes (LCLUC) in this landscape, to identify major drivers and impacts of those changes, and to use development and conservation scenarios to estimate likely landscape outcomes. The project would employ recently developed techniques to perform continuous change detection from dense stacks of medium resolution remote sensing data (e.g., Landsat and Sentinel). Resulting time series of forest canopy disturbance will be used in conjunction with LiDAR (airborne and NASA Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation data), to generate maps of canopy height in existing oil palm agriculture. Based on these products and spatial analysis, we will characterize land use transitions in the following categories from 2000 to present: (1) transition from peat forest to smallholding oil palm; (2) transition from other land uses (e.g., abandoned land) to smallholding oil palm; (3) transition from smallholding oil palm to large industrial estates. The impact of land use transitions will be assessed across a wide range of parameters, including environmental parameters such as carbon emissions, nitrogen loading, and forest cover loss, but also economic factors such as profitability and employment. We will develop statistical models to identify key drivers for each transition. Proposed drivers to evaluate include vegetation type, fire frequency, peat depth, climate conditions, oil palm processing infrastructure, market prices, and demographic characteristics of the labor population. These drivers and ecological impacts will be evaluated synthetically in a coupled assessment model that will be used to develop a decision-support tool capable of projecting future LCLUC transitions and their impacts for potential market, policy, disturbance, and climate scenarios.

This research is directly responsive to the LCLUC call for proposals addressing Land-Use Transitions in Asia, specifically focusing on the critical, but poorly understood smallholder land use dynamics surrounding oil palm expansion in Indonesian peatlands. We will make effective use of NASA observing systems (Landsat and GEDI observations) to refine and expand existing techniques for estimating canopy height across landscapes. For oil palm, this relates directly to age, maturity and likely rotation periods. Our remote sensing products, together with ancillary inputs on socioeconomic drivers of land transitions, will allow us to assess the landscape impact of agricultural production, develop land use transition models, and provide new understanding of how future LCLUC transitions will affect this dynamic and important coupled human-environmental system.

Effectiveness and monitoring of large-scale carbon-loss mitigation activities in Indonesia’s peatlands

Indonesia is engaged in, arguably, the planet’s largest carbon-flux mitigation project. Through its Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) they are blocking drainage canals with the objective of peatland restoration (“rewetting, revegetation and revitalization”) for 2.5 million ha of drained and degraded peatlands by 2020. Furthermore, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has plans for restoring another ~5 million ha in the coming years. Reducing carbon emissions from Indonesia’s tropical converted peatlands, where frequent wildfires have become a globally-significant side-effect (84% of Southeast Asia’s carbon emissions), is essential for stabilizing global climate. Indonesia has unilaterally committed to reduceing its GHG emissions by 29%. However, Indonesia has yet to develop a methodology for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness at reducing GHG emissions from these peatland restoration projects.

We plan to work with our stakeholders, BRG and FAO, to assess the effects of ongoing mitigation projects upon landscape hydrology, fire occurrence and behavior, and vegetation regrowth, which all impact carbon fluxes. We will accomplish this by building upon our established research infrastructure, with hundreds of established dipwells (hydrology), long term vegetation plots, and years of applying common methods for assessing fire behavior and carbon emissions at large research sites we maintain in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Riau and Jambi Provinces (Sumatra).  

We will work with FAO to use our extensive field data (space and time), to calibrate the PRIMS Soil Moisture product. By relating PRIMS responses to water table depths, vegetation cover, distance to canals and frequency and time since disturbance, we will define the uncertainties of the PRIMS soil moisture estimates (Sentinel 1) as functions of these landscape attributes. We will subsequently validate the PRIMS products by verifying its accuracy when applied in Riau and Jambi, our other research sites that also contain ongoing BRG mitigation activities. We will also build a hydrologic model of the Mawas site (Kalimantan) to ascertain if canal blocking is only raising water levels, or if it is also changing drainage properties of the underlying peat. By detecting fires (MODIS/VIIRS), monitoring their behavior and peat consumption in the field, mapping their extent (Landsat/Sentinel 2), and evaluating changes in the particle emissions in smoke plumes (VIIRS), we will quantify changes in fire-related emissions from the mitigation activities. Similarly, by monitoring any changes in growth or composition within our vegetation plots, we will assess if the mitigation efforts are resulting in apparent restoration of degraded forests. We will also test the planned FAO PRIMS Subsidence product against our long term data series of well distributed subsidence plots to calibrate its outputs, compare it with GEDI lidar points (if available) to assess if discernible changes in peat height loss rates exist within and outside mitigation areas. These combined activities enable us to produce a comprehensive evaluation of if, where and how BRG mitigation activities are effecting carbon fluxes, while developing tools that will enhance our prototype CMS for tropical peatlands. 

This work uses many satellite products to produce enhance CMS capabilities that are critical to assessing near-to-mid term carbon fluxes and changes to those fluxes caused by peatland restoration efforts. We are also advancing our stakeholder’s interests by helping BRG to assess effectiveness of mitigation projects, and helping FAO calibrate an important peatland monitoring tool that provides early warning capabilities for illegal conversion. By providing the CMS tools for evaluating carbon fluxes in these globally important ecosystems we are advancing carbon products but more importantly providing societally relevant information on the largest carbon mitigation activities being undertaken.