In the fight against climate change, collaboration wins


For decades, Indonesia’s forests and peatlands have suffered devastating annual wildfires, releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, affecting the country’s economy, biodiversity and human health.


Location is the first step to preservation of this critical ecosystem. With that impetus, we designed a $1 million USD innovation prize to accelerate more accurate, affordable, timely methods for mapping the thickness and boundaries of peatlands.

The 10 teams that stepped up in response to the prize represent the best and brightest in mapping, forestry and agriculture from around the world.

Indonesia’s peatlands are vast and poorly mapped, making it nearly impossible to predict fire patterns or direct firefighting resources effectively. In 2015, Indonesia’s geospatial information agency, Badan Informasi Geospasial (BIG) approached us to design an innovation prize that would accelerate improvements in mapping.

Insights research revealed that the prize could encourage new, innovative mapping methods, namely those that prioritize speed and affordability over detail. Because of the size and urgency of the problem, nontraditional approaches to mapping would also be encouraged.

The prize focused global expertise toward a common goal

Scientists and researchers have studied these environments for decades. Yet, they’d rarely collaborated to define the specific challenges facing Indonesia. Working with advisers and researchers to identify potential entrants, we shaped the Indonesian Peat Prize to attract maximum interest. Ultimately, it drew 10 entrant teams, consisting of researchers, students, companies and government agencies from more than a dozen countries.

The prize also includes a long-term strategy to create and maintain the global network of experts that emerged from the experience. This network will prove a valuable resource for the Indonesian government as it improves its understanding of mapping techniques and peatlands, and ultimately makes these cataclysmic fires a thing of the past.

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