High permeability explains the vulnerability of the carbon store in drained tropical peatlands

Andy J. Baird*, Robert Low, Dylan Young, Graeme T. Swindles, Omar R. Lopez, Susan Page

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
65 Downloads (Pure)


Tropical peatlands are an important global carbon (C) store but are threatened by drainage for palm oil and wood pulp production. The store's stability depends on the dynamics of the peatland water table, which in turn depend on peat permeability. We found that an example of the most abundant type of tropical peatland—ombrotrophic domes—has an unexpectedly high permeability similar to that of gravel. Using computer simulations of a natural peat dome (NPD) and a ditch-drained peat dome (DPD) we explored how such high permeability affects water tables and peat decay. High permeability has little effect on NPD water tables because of low hydraulic gradients from the center to the margin of the peatland. In contrast, DPD water tables are consistently deep, leaving the upper meter of peat exposed to rapid decay. Our results reveal why ditch drainage precipitates a rapid destabilization of the tropical peatland C store.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1333-1339
Number of pages7
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2017


  • carbon
  • decay
  • drainage
  • permeability
  • tropical peatland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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