A pioneering project involving the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is monitoring peatlands in South East Asia by satellite.
The UK Space Agency has awarded £2.15m to a two-year project, PASSES (Peatland Assessment in SE Asia by Satellite). It is being led by information technology company CGI and involves a variety of partners, including CEH and several British universities, along with government agencies, private sector companies and research institutions in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Since 1990, about three quarters of all the peat swamp forests of South East Asia have been deforested and converted to agricultural uses such as palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Many forests have been cleared by burning, contributing to regional air pollution and health problems. Agricultural use of peatlands also involves drainage, resulting in decomposition of carbon stores that have accumulated over thousands of years.
In combination, these processes mean that peatlands now contribute about 3.5% of all CO2 emissions caused by humans, and have made South East Asia a globally significant emissions hotspot.
Using the latest satellite measurement techniques, the project will ensure better and more efficient monitoring of the vast peatland areas of Indonesia and Malaysia, providing information on water levels, rates of land subsidence and CO2 emissions.
The work aims to support activities by governments, companies and organisations involved in managing peatlands by providing new information to plan and prioritie restoration activities, and to monitor outcomes at large scales.
In areas remaining under cultivation, the project will provide new data to support management that minimises detrimental environmental impacts, while continuing to support economic growth and livelihood development across the region.