Erianto Indra Putra, Hiroshi Hayasaka, Hidenori Takahashi, and Aswin Usup
The original objective of theMega Rice Project (MRP) in CentralKalimantan, Indonesia – to convert onemillion hectares of tropical swamp forest to paddy fields – instead produced large areas of abandoned farmland with bare peat subject to frequent fires. To understand how peat fire occurrence is related to drought, we analyzed 1997 to 2007 United States Department Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hotspot data, sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies, and weather data. We found that peat fire activity was proportional to drought severity as determined by SST anomalies, and that peat fires – the number of hotspots – correlated strongly with SST anomalies, implying that MRP area peat fires are related to peat dryness. Surface fires start when ground water levels (GWL) are about 20 cm below the ground surface, and hundreds of such fires can occur with deeper GWL. A detailed and precise hotspot distribution map showed that large MRP areas (Blocks A and C) located on deep peat layers have high fire density due to ongoing human disturbance, classifying MRP area peat fires as a man-made disaster.
Keywords: Peat fire, hotspot, sea surface temperature anomalies, drought, ground water level