Come dry season every year, fires flare up across Indonesia, including in protected forest areas. Not only do these endanger the plant and animal wildlife in these forests, but they also spew clouds of toxic smoke that choke up cities and lungs, affecting 50 million people across Southeast Asia. Officials struggle to extinguish these fires, in part because the areas burning are peatlands. Peat is a type of soil formed by partially decayed plant material that accumulates under waterlogged conditions over long time periods. It takes an average of a millennia and a half for 1 meter (3.2 feet) of peat to accumulate. Peatlands – areas covered by layers of peat – are essentially natural storage devices for huge amounts of carbon, helping to cool the climate. Globally, they hold almost twice as much carbon as forests – and when they burn, they release the carbon sequestered away, which contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The tropical peatlands of Southeast Asia store more than three-fourths of global peat carbon stocks. They are rich in biodiversity, housing everything from orchids to orangutans, and millions of people depend on them for their livelihoods. Yet, these areas remain among the least understood and monitored in the world and are increasingly under threat from warming temperatures and human actions – which are turning them from being carbon sinks to carbon sources. Peatlands in Indonesian Borneo. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay. In Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, peatlands have been extensively drained and…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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