Charles Harvey
Singapore/MIT Professor of Environmental Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Tropical peat swamp forests act as modern analogues for coal deposition but now emit large fluxes of CO2 as peat lands are drained for agriculture.  I will describe one of the last remaining pristine tropical peat forests. Through a combination of hydrologic, carbon-flux, and LIDAR data we have developed a new framework for understanding the coupled hydrologic and ecological processes that shape tropical peatlands. Carbon dates from cores are consistent with the modeled evolution of the peat landscape and both the simulations and data agree that the peatland has reached a steady-state over five millennia such that: (1) Vadose-zone dynamics are uniform across the peat even as the watertable responds to rainstorms and; (2) The topographic curvature of the peat is described by a spatially uniform Laplacian value that is predicted by rainfall statistics.  These uniform characteristics indicate that carbon accumulation and loss are likely balanced across the landscape.  We estimate how this steady-state topography, and hence the peat volume, will shift if rainfall characteristics change and finally consider how drainage, deforestation, and sea level rise may affect the carbon store of tropical peat lands.

You are invited to stay for a reception following the forum.