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Msc thesis subject: Characterizing global peatland mapping accuracy for climate change mitigation strategies

In spite of their relatively small area, peatlands are high carbon ecosystems that directly affect climate change by preserving long-term accumulated organic material or by releasing it in the form of CO2 when degraded. Along with storing large quantities of carbon, peatlands also offer other ecosystems services such as water storage, biodiversity, timber and non-timber products, food security.

Recent research suggests that the tropics host much more peat than previously thought both in area extent and carbon stocks (1). Some of these tropical peatlands lay on remote areas with little human influence. However, climatic stresses and countries’ development pathways are quickly rendering most tropical peatlands susceptible to degradation (2), with associated social, economic and environmental consequences. As today, many natural peatlands have already been converted and drained to allow for commercial agriculture and forestry (3), and new pressures are raising in the tropics associated to the expansion of commercial cash crops (i.e. palm oil, soya, rubber, pulp) (4). Some of this degradation may prove unavoidable as food and resources are required for growing populations and land changes are already foreseen in many countries’ development programs (2,4,6,7) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Examples of oil concessions foreseen in the western Amazon, over the Pastaza-Maranon large peat area, and planned hydro plants in the Andes. Source: Finer et al. (2013) and Finer & Jenkins (2012)
Figure 1: Examples of oil concessions foreseen in the western Amazon, over the Pastaza-Maranon large peat area, and planned hydro plants in the Andes. Source: Finer et al. (2013) and Finer & Jenkins (2012)

Lack of data, lack of appropriate methods, and/or disagreeing datasets are among the first barriers to peatland sound management and policy development. In this line, there currently is no clear agreement on peatland location, extent and carbon stocks. Some of these disagreements do not necessarily relate to wrong approaches but rather to different definitions, assumptions, and methods. In the same line, decisions on conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of peatlands require robust methodologies that can accurately identify and follow up changes (climate or human driven) in peatlands’ health. Some initiatives are already on the way to improve peatland monitoring to support robust management, such as the International Tropical Peatland Center (ITPC) (8) or country-agencies such as the Indonesian Agency for Peatland Restoration. Both organizations have a clear interest on better characterizing peatland location, extent and carbon stocks. This study aims to support the ITPC in understanding strengths and weaknesses of current pantropical peatland maps in order to help improving peatland mapping.

Objectives

  • Assessing the uncertainty of current pantropical peatland maps
  • Evaluating the uncertain areas by means of map assessment using high-resolution satellite data.

Literature

  • Gumbricht et al. (2017) An expert system model for mapping tropical wetlands and peatlands reveals South America as the largest contributor. Global Change Biology, 23, 3581–3599.
  • Roucoux et al. (2017) Threats to intact tropical peatlands and opportunities for their conservation. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12925 3.
  • Biancalani and Avagyan (2014) Towards climate-responsible peatland management. FAO. Rome http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4029e.pdf
  • Van Straaten et al. (2015) Conversion of lowland tropical forests to tree cash crop plantations loses up to one-half of stored soil organic carbon. PNAS, 112, 9956-9960.
  • Page et al. (2011) Global and regional importance of the tropical peatland carbon pool. Global Change Biology, 17, 798–818.
  • Finer et al. (2013) Potential of Best Practice to Reduce Impacts from Oil and Gas Projects in the Amazon. PlosONE, 8, e63022.
  • Finer & Jenkins (2012) Proliferation of Hydroelectric Dams in the Andean Amazon and Implications for Andes-Amazon Connectivity, 7, e35126.
  • https://www.tropicalpeatlands.org/

Requirements

  • Advanced GIS skills
  • Affinity to work with Google Earth Engine for validation of uncertain peatland areas (optical and radar)

Theme(s): Modelling & visualisation; Integrated Land Monitoring