The Government of Indonesia, in partnership with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, announced a new prize competition to find a more accurate and faster way of mapping the extent and depth of Indonesia’s peatlands.
The carbon released from the degradation of peat soils in Indonesia is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world. Exposing peat to oxygen through logging and draining rapidly increases the rate of peat decomposition. Peat fires, which are often lit to clear land for agriculture, can burn for years. Last year during the height of the fire season, more GHGs were emitted each day from Indonesia’s peat soils than from all emission sources in the United States combined.
Over the past year, Government of Indonesia and many of the companies involved in clearing peatlands for agriculture (particularly palm oil) have increased their efforts to address the problem. In September 2014, leading palm oil producers and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce announced that they would cease planting on peat soils. In October 2015, the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, announced that the government would take steps to strengthen the enforcement of an existing moratorium on peatland development and begin to restore degraded peatlands.
There is a major barrier to achieving these commitments: there is no accurate map of the location and depth of peatlands in Indonesia. Techniques such as the use of soil cores or ground penetrating radar can accurately measure the presence or absence and depth of peat soils in specific locations, but these techniques would be too costly and time consuming to use to fully map the country’s soils. Remote sensing with “Lidar” has been used to identify locations with relatively deep peat soils but this can’t provide accurate boundaries of the extent of peatlands across the country. The result is that the peatland maps that exist are not sufficiently accurate to allow the determination of whether or not a particular field being cleared for agriculture is on peat soils.
The “Indonesian Peat Prize” seeks to engage the world’s best scientists and engineers to apply existing and novel technologies to the task of developing more accurate and efficient approaches to mapping peat soils. There is every reason to believe that the application of recent advances in remote sensing technologies and the experience of scientists in related fields such as oil exploration could significantly advance the science of peat mapping. The competition protocol requires that entrants register by May 2016 and develop their approaches by June 2017 using test sites in Indonesia where the extent and depth of peat soils have already been mapped. The approaches will then be demonstrated in August 2017 on a second set of test sites where the entrants don’t have access to the ground-truthed data. Usefulness will be determined by the degree to which a map is accurate, affordable, and quick to create. A successful prize will identify a transparent, credible, and location-agnostic methodology for mapping Indonesian peatland extent and thickness. Prizes totaling $1 million will be awarded to the wining approaches.
Indonesia’s Geospatial Information Agency and the Packard Foundation are co-hosting the Peat Prize. The competition is being administered by World Resources Institute – Indonesia and Context Partners under the guidance of a Science Advisory Board chaired by Dr. Supiandi Sabiham (Faculty of Agriculture, Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), Indonesia, and Dr. David Schimel (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, United States).
For more detailed information on the prize and how teams can register, please visit www.indonesianpeatprize.com.