Carbon storage and release in Indonesian peatlands since the last deglaciation

René Dommain, John Couwenberg, Paul H Glaser, Hans Joosten, I. Nyoman N. Suryadiputra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Peatlands have been recognised as globally important carbon sinks over long timescales that produced a global, net-climatic cooling effect over the Holocene. However, little is known about the role of tropical peatlands in the global carbon cycle. We therefore determine the past rates of carbon storage and release in the Indonesian peatlands of Kalimantan and Sumatra - the largest global concentration of tropical peatlands - since 20 ka (kiloannum before present). Using a novel GIS (geographic information system) approach we provide a spatially-explicit reconstruction of peatland expansion in a series of paleogeographic maps.Sea-level change is identified as the principal driver for peatland formation and expansion in western Indonesia as it controls both atmospheric moisture supply and the hydrological gradient on the islands. Initiation of inland peatlands in Kalimantan was coupled to periods of rapid deglacial sea-level rise with rates of over 10mmyr-1 whereas coastal peatlands could only form after 7 ka when the rate of sea-level rise had slowed to 2.4mmyr-1. Falling sea levels after 5 ka led to rapid peatland expansion in coastal lowlands and a doubling of the total peatland area in western Indonesia to 131,500km2 between 2.3 ka and 0 ka. As a result of slow peatland expansion from 15 to 6 ka and rapid expansion afterwards the rate of annual carbon storage of all western Indonesian peatlands remained <1TgC yr-1 until 6 ka and then increased to 7.2TgC yr-1 by 0 ka. Associated with this rise in carbon storage was an exponential growth of the peat carbon pool from 0.01PgC by 15 ka to 23.2PgC at present, of which 70% is stored in coastal peatlands. In inland Kalimantan peatlands, falling sea levels together with increased El Niño activity induced an annual carbon release of 0.15TgC yr-1 from aerobic peat decay since 2 ka. Cumulative carbon losses from anaerobic decomposition do not seem to limit peat bog growth in the tropical peatlands of Indonesia. Carbon losses from Holocene peat fires are only known from the Kutai basin since 4.4 ka with an associated release of 0.1-3.6TgC per fire event, which never surpassed the contemporaneous annual C storage. The peatlands of western Indonesia were thus a persistent carbon sink since 15 ka but this sink was of global importance only over the past 2000 years when it likely contributed to a slower growth in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Currently, annual losses of carbon from peat drainage and fires are on average 28 times higher than the pre-disturbance rate of uptake implying that this carbon reservoir has recently switched from being a net carbon sink to a significant source of atmospheric carbon and is currently in danger of eradication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014


  • Carbon accumulation
  • El Niño
  • Global carbon cycle
  • Holocene
  • Indonesia
  • Peat fire
  • Sea-level rise
  • Tropical peatland


Dive into the research topics of 'Carbon storage and release in Indonesian peatlands since the last deglaciation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this