What is Peat Haze?

From Rubber to Oil
February 25, 2014
March 12, 2014

Peat haze is a form of pollution created when peat land forests are burned. Drained peat lands are very susceptible to prolonged fires that are, more often than not, initiated by humans.

Peat is a soil that is made up almost entirely of organic carbon, and when you burn it there’s almost nothing left. [Peat in hand.]

SEA Peat Map.

A peat is something that has just been built up by plants, and as a result it is almost all organic matter. So you have all of these very flat coastal areas in Johor and coastal Sumatra and coastal Kalimantan, and North West Borneo that are covered by these vast peatlands. They account for a very large proportion of the low-lying coastal regions here in Southeast Asia. These are peatlands that were established between 15,000 and 3,000 years ago, and gradually accumulated these deep deposits of almost all organic matter that might be anywhere from 5 to 10 meters thick. ALEXANDER COBB, Researcher, SMART Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling.

Illustration of virgin peatland.

What’s unique about a peat forest is that these wooden leaves that rain down onto the forest floor don’t all degrade and go back to the atmosphere. So as a tropical forest grows it, through photosynthesis, takes CO2 out of the atmosphere and converts that into organic carbon, wood and leaves. A portion of it accumulates, so that over thousands of years, the peat that underlies the forest gets thicker and thicker, and stores more and more carbon.

World Peat Map.

Peat is found almost everywhere in the world but for the most part places that are fairly wet, and most peat is in the far north, in Russia, in Canada, in places like Finland. Part of the reason it’s in the far north is because it freezes during the winter, and that keeps the peat from degrading during half the year. CHARLES HARVEY, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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