Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 191–201 | Cite as

Influence of peatland and land cover distribution on fire regimes in insular Southeast Asia

  • Jukka MiettinenEmail author
  • Chenghua Shi
  • Soo Chin Liew
Original Article


Anthropogenic biomass burning in insular Southeast Asia facilitates conversion and degradation of ecosystems and emits high amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We analyzed the influence of peat soil and land cover distribution on the occurrence and characteristics of vegetation fires. Two years of satellite-based active fire detections over Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo and Java were examined together with land cover and peatland maps. Our results showed that fire occurrence nearly tripled (23,000 → 68,000) from a wet La Niña year (2008) to a drier El Niño year (2009). In both years, fires were concentrated in peatlands (in 2009 41% of fires vs. 10% of land area), and the majority of large-scale burning took place in peatlands. Variation in peatland land cover within the study area was noticed to create remarkable different fire regimes. Biomass burning in the intensely managed Sumatran peatlands was characterized by large-scale land clearance fires that took place annually to varying extent. The largely unmanaged degraded peatland ecosystems of Borneo, on the other hand, experienced very little fire activity in a wet year but were ravaged by large-scale wildfires when El Niño conditions arose. We conclude that fire regime characteristics in insular Southeast Asia are strongly connected to occurrence of peat soil and land management status. This leads to high variation of fire activity within this region both annually (depending on weather patters) and over longer time range (depending on land cover/management issues) and greatly complicates estimation of the effects of fires.


Biomass burning Vegetation fires Active fire detection Hotspots 



The authors would like to thank the MODIS Rapid Response Project at the University of Maryland for providing the active fire data online. In addition, the authors acknowledge financial support from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) of Singapore.


  1. Ballhorn U, Siegert F, Manson M, Limin S (2009) Derivation of burn scar depths and estimation of carbon emissions with LIDAR in Indonesian peatlands. Proc Nat Acad Sci 106:21213–21218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bowen MR, Bompard JM, Anderson IP, Guizol P, Guyon A (2001) Anthropogenic fires in Indonesia: a view from Sumatra. In: Eaton P, Radojevic M (eds) Forest fires and regional haze in Southeast Asia. Nova Science, Huntington, pp 41–66Google Scholar
  3. Chokkalingam U, Suyanto S, Permana RP, Kurniawan I, Mannes J, Darmawan A, Khususyiah N, Susanto RH (2006) Community fire use, resource change, and livelihood impacts: the downward spiral in the wetlands of southern Sumatra. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 12:75–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cochrane MA (2001) Synergistic interactions between habitat fragmentation and fire in evergreen tropical forests. Conserv Biol 15:1515–1521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cochrane MA (2003) Fire science for rainforests. Nature 421:913–919CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Corlett RT (2009) The ecology of tropical East Asia. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Davies DK, Ilavajhala S, Wong MM, Justice CO (2009) Fire information for resource management system: archiving and distributing MODIS active fire data. IEEE Trans Geosci Remote Sens 47:72–79 (Hotspots data available at, accessed Jan 2010)Google Scholar
  8. Dennis RA, Mayer J, Applegate G, Chokkalingam U, Colfer CJP, Kurniawan I, Lachowski H, Maus P, Permana RP, Ruchiat Y, Stolle F, Suyanto, Tomich TP (2005) Fire, people and pixels: linking social science and remote sensing to understand underlying causes and impacts of fires in Indonesia. Human Ecol 33:465–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eva H, Lambin EF (1998) Remote sensing of biomass burning in tropical regions: sampling issues and multisensor approach. Remote Sens Environ 64:292–315Google Scholar
  10. Field RD, van der Werf GR, Shen SSP (2009) Human amplification of drought-induced biomass burning in Indonesia since 1960. Nature Geosci 2:185–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fuller DO, Jessup TC, Salim A (2004) Loss of forest cover in Kalimantan, Indonesia, since the 1997–1998 El Niño. Conserv Biol 18:249–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Giglio L, Descloitres J, Justice CO, Kaufman YJ (2003) An enhanced contextual fire detection algorithm for MODIS. Remote Sens Environ 87:273–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goldammer JG (2006) History of equatorial vegetation fires and fire research in Southeast Asia before the 1997–98 episode: a reconstruction of creeping environmental changes. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 12:13–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heil A, Langmann B, Aldrian E (2006) Indonesian peat and vegetation fire emissions: study on factors influencing large-scale smoke haze pollution using a regional atmospheric chemistry model. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 12:113–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jaenicke J, Rieley JO, Mott C, Kimman P, Siegert F (2008) Determination of the amount of carbon stored in Indonesian peatlands. Geoderma 147:151–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jarvis A, Reuter HI, Nelson A, Guevara E (2006) Hole-filled seamless SRTM data V3. International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) (Available at, accessed Dec 2009)
  17. Kauppi PE, Ausubel JH, Fang J, Mather AS, Sedjo RA, Waggoner PE (2006) Returning forests analyzed with the forest identity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:17574–17579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ketterings QM, Wibowo TT, van Noordwijk M, Penot E (1999) Farmers’ perspectives on slash-and-burn as a land clearing method for small-scale rubber producers in Sepunggur, Jambi Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. For Ecol Manag 120:157–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Langner A, Siegert F (2009) Spatiotemporal fire occurrence in Borneo over a period of 10 years. Global Change Biol 15:48–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Langner A, Miettinen J, Siegert F (2007) Land cover change 2002–2005 in Borneo and the role of fire derived from MODIS imagery. Global Change Biol 13:2329–2340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Miettinen J, Liew SC (2009) Burn-scar patterns and their effect on regional burnt-area mapping in insular Southeast Asia. Int J Wildl Fire 18:837–847CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Miettinen J, Liew SC (2010) Degradation and development of peatlands in Peninsular Malaysia and in the islands of Sumatra and Borneo since 1990. Land Degrad Dev 21:285–296Google Scholar
  23. Miettinen J, Wong CM, Liew SC (2008) New 500 m spatial resolution land cover map of the western insular Southeast Asia region. Int J Remote Sens 29:6075–6081CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Murdiyarso D, Adiningsih ES (2006) Climate anomalies, Indonesian vegetation fires and terrestrial carbon emissions. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 12:101–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. National Weather Service (2010) Cold and warm episodes by season. National Weather Service, Climate Prediction Centre. Accessed Jan 2010
  26. Page SE, Siegert F, Rieley JO, Boehm H-DV, Jaya A, Limin S (2002) The amount of carbon released from peat and forest in Indonesia during 1997. Nature 420:61–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Qadri ST (ed) (2001) Fire, smoke and haze: the ASEAN response strategy. The Asian Development Bank, ManilaGoogle Scholar
  28. Rieley JO, Page SE (eds) (2005) Wise use of tropical peatlands: focus of Southeast Asia. ALTERRA—Wageningen University and Research Centre and the EU INCO—STRAPEAT and RESTORPEAT Partnership, Wageningen, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  29. Selvaradjou SK, Montanarella L, Spaargaren O, Dent D, Filippi N, Dominik S (2005) European digital archive of soil maps (EuDASM)—metadata of the soil maps of Asia. Office of the Official Publications of the European Communities, LuxembourgGoogle Scholar
  30. Siegert F, Ruecker G, Hindrichs A, Hoffmann AA (2001) Increased damage from fires in logged forests during droughts caused by El Niño. Nature 414:437–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Silvius M, Diemont H (2007) Deforestation and degradation of peatlands. Peatl Int 2(2007):32–34Google Scholar
  32. Simorangkir D (2006) Fire use: is it really the cheaper land preparation method for large-scale plantations? Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 12:147–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stolle F, Chomitz KM, Lambin EF, Tomich TP (2003) Land use and vegetation fires in Jambi Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. For Ecol Manag 179:277–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Uhl C, Kaufman JB, Cummings DL (1988) Fire in the Venezuelan Amazon 2: environmental conditions necessary for forest fires in the evergreen rainforest of Venezuela. Oikos 53:176–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. van der Werf GR, Dempewolf J, Trigg SN, Randerson JT, Kasibhatla PS, Giglio L, Murdiyarso D, Peters W, Morton DC, Gollatz GJ, Dolman AJ, DeFries RS (2008) Climate regulation of fire emissions and deforestation in equatorial Asia. Proc Nat Acad Sci 105:20350–20355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wahyunto, Ritung S, Subagjo H (2003) Maps of area of peatland distribution and carbon content in Sumatera, 1990–2002. Wetlands International—Indonesia Programme and Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC), Bogor, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  37. Wahyunto, Ritung S, Suparto, Subagjo H (2004) Map of peatland distribution area and carbon content in Kalimantan, 2000–2002. Wetlands International—Indonesia Programme and Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC), Bogor, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  38. Whitmore TC (1984) Tropical rain forests of the Far East, 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and ProcessingNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations