Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Indonesia’s burning issue

Indonesia’s burning issue NASA Earth Observatory
20 Nov
2015
Extreme forest and peat burning in Indonesia has released over three times the annual fossil fuel emissions of the United Kingdom

Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest tropical forest, in which over 100,000 individual fires have been burning in recent months, primarily across the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Consequently, up to 1.74 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent had been released between the start of August (when the fires began burning) and the middle of November, making Indonesia one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in 2015, with daily emissions exceeding the entire US economic output.

‘The present-day peat fire dynamic of insular Southeast Asia is the consequence of what might be described as a “perfect storm” of events that provide the key ingredients for fire activity, namely an abundance both of fuel and of ignition sources,’ says Susan Page, professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Leicester.

Page states that over the last two decades, the region has experienced some of the highest rates of forest loss and disturbance anywhere in the tropics, with a particularly high loss rate for peat swamp forest. This is largely, she claims, a result of conversion to large-scale palm oil and pulpwood plantations – these plantations on peat increased in area by 12 per cent annually between 2007 and 2010. ‘The advent of these monoculture plantations has seen landscape-scale forest clearance and peat drainage but also widespread use of fire as a cheap, fast and effective means to clear large areas of forest debris and regrowth,’ she says.

In the past, small-scale use of fire posed limited risk of large-scale damage, but degradation and drainage of the peat swamps has converted a once fire-resistant landscape into a fire-prone one, in which there is abundant fuel for smouldering ground fires. Page stresses that the Indonesian peatlands store about 57 billion tonnes of carbon, which, if released by burning, could convert to as much as 210 billion tonnes of CO2.

This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Deserts

An evening discussing Oman’s hidden conservation heritage. Fifty Geographical readers…

Deserts

Biosphere 2 was one of the most ambitious experiments in…

Forests

High-quality, affordable drones can revolutionise the way that landscape and…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the impact of volcanoes on nearby human…

Mapping

A volunteer-led digital mapping project is at the heart of…

Cities

As the planet urbanises, attention is turning towards the most…

Forests

Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many…

Cities

A rising number of cruise ships and their ‘overlooked’ diesel…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the growth and impact of the world’s…

Deserts

Long-term studies reveal the Sahara desert has expanded substantially over…

Water

South America’s wealthiest economy is at a crossroads between environmental…

Forests

The European Court of Justice finds the logging of a…

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…

Water

Millions of Americans are living in areas at high-risk of…

Mapping

New interactive maps combine precipitation and temperature to show climate…

Cities

Public transport in India could be on the verge of…

Water

To retrace the route of the fur voyageurs on the waterways…