Peats are an important player in the Earth system, today and in the past, as the most carbon-rich soils and near-surface deposits active in atmosphere-biosphere exchanges. In the 2013 IPCC report, peatlands have been recognized by the international climate science community as one of the single greatest influences on carbon-climate feedbacks on Holocene timescales. The large size and high sensitivity of peat carbon pools in the Arctic has been relatively well studied for decades, but Tropical peatlands, particularly those outside Southeast Asia, have received very little attention. This is despite the size of the tropical peat carbon pool, the unique biodiversity supported by these ecosystems, and the pressures and rapid changes being imposed on them currently. We know that low-latitude peats are at the intersection of our densest human population, rapid land use change, and tropical climate variability. But it has become acutely evident that, as society tackles problems associated with their rapid alteration and destruction, we know far too little about their distribution, properties, and sensitivity/resilience.
This international workshop will focus on low-latitude peatlands to bring together experts from both developed and developing countries with expertise in these under-studied ecosystems. Our overall goal is to bring together datasets and expertise and initiate a synthesis product that will collate peat data in one place for the Earth System Science community. In particular, we will compile data on peat distribution throughout the Tropics (including but expanding beyond Southeast Asia), available biogeochemical information on peat properties, and identify significant knowledge gaps that can help guide research priorities over the next decade. Because this will be a first Tropics-wide peat workshop, our effort is very timely and will facilitate research coordination between groups during the next several years.