Date of Graduation

Spring 5-19-2017

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences


Environmental Management

First Advisor

John Callaway


Tropical forests store the largest amount of carbon globally by sequestering up to 2.7 Gt of carbon every year in soils and vegetation. Deforestation and the conversion of tropical peatland soil have contributed to global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, as well as significantly hindering tropical ecosystems and the natural carbon sequestration potential that could potentially help mitigate atmospheric CO2 levels. Deforestation has increased rapidly since the 1970’s across Southeast Asia with oil palm contributing to 61% of deforestation between 2010 and 2015 with emissions reaching 22.1 million tons CO2-eq during that time. The conversions of tropical peatlands are a significant source of regional carbon emissions since the transformation of these soils both degrades carbon storage capacity, and increases emissions during the conversion process. Conversion processes for monoculture lead to long-term degradation and over the last four decades, emissions from tropical peatland modification has reached over 6 Gt CO2-eq. Land use change by fire, although a method of deforestation, emits the highest levels of CO2-eq during conversion. The conversion by fire also leads to an increased risk of wildfires within the area. As fire continues to be used as a method of land clearing, emissions and wildfires are expected to increase. There are two methods of oil palm extraction and production, wet and dry, and emissions from these processes average 3.03 and 1.69 tons CO2-eq/ha respectively. The wastewater treatment system implemented for wet extraction could either aid in decreasing or result in increased production emissions. A transition in production processes could decrease emissions by up to 47%.

The evidence from the analysis was used to develop recommendations for carbon emission mitigation and land use change that results from the oil palm industry within Southeast Asia. These recommendations can be summarized into: discontinuing oil palm expansion on unsuitable land, promoting the movement towards sustainable oil palm production through sustainability certification processes as well as discontinuing fire related conversion processes, and already established plantations should transition from wet to dry extraction processes to reduce overall emissions; however, if this is not economically feasible, the implementation of a biogas capture system would aid in emission reduction.