Decision support system for peatland management in the humid tropics

H.P. Ritzema, T. Grobbe, T. Chong, J.H.M. Wösten

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper


Large areas of globally important tropical peatland in Southeast Asia are threatened by land clearance, degradation and fire, jeopardising their natural functions as reservoirs of biodiversity, carbon stores and hydrological buffers. Many development projects on tropical peatlands have failed because of lack of understanding of the landscape functions of these ecosystems. Utilisation of these peatland resources for agriculture or other land use requires drainage which, unavoidably, leads to irreversible loss of peat through subsidence, resulting in severe disturbance of the substrate, CO2-emissions and problems for cultivation. To assist planners and managers in wise use of these tropical peatlands a decision support system (DSS) has been developed. This DSS, which is based on a GIS application, combines the Groundwater Modelling Computer Programme PMWIN with expert knowledge on subsidence, land use and water management. The DSS can be used to predict the long-term effects of different types of land use, e.g. peat swamp forest, sago or oil palm plantations, on the lifetime and associated CO2 release of these tropical peatlands. The type of land use dictates the required depth of the groundwater table, which on its turn has a significant effect on the sustainability of the peatland. Therefore, special attention should be paid when deciding which type of land use to pursuit. The Decision Support System (DSS) will help to improve the decision-making process. The groundwater model PMWIN was selected because it maintains a good balance between the complexity of the model (esp. regarding to its input data requirements) and the availability of input data. The groundwater model was calibrated using data from the Balingian Area, Central Sarawak, Malaysia. The model was used to predict, based on a given land use scenario, the ratio between surface and groundwater runoff, the depth of the groundwater table and recharge and discharge zones of the peat dome. Various land use scenarios, each with its own specific water management requirements, were developed and used to predict the long-term changes in ground level and associated CO2 release. For each scenario the following outcome was generated: time span after which the water management systems have to be deepened, time span after which gravity drainage is no longer possible, time span for peat disappearance. Final results are presented in the form of maps generated by the GIS application. These maps serve as a communication tool with stakeholders to demonstrate what the hydrological effects are on for instance a certain land use type and drainage system lay-out.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • peat soils
  • land use
  • drainage
  • water table
  • indonesia
  • decision support systems

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