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Estimating habitat extent and carbon loss from an eroded northern blanket bog using UAV derived imagery and topography

In this study, researchers used aerial imagery collected by flying a UAV over the ECN Moor House site, an upland blanket bog. From this spatial data, a digital surface model was constructed and vegetation and peatland features were classified, enabling carbon loss to be estimated. The paper shows what can be achieved with low-cost UAVs equipped with consumer grade camera equipment, and demonstrates their potential for the carbon and peatland conservation research community.
Reference

Scholefield, P., Morton, D., McShane, G., Carrasco, L., Whitfield, MG., Rowland, C., Rose, R., Wood, C., Tebbs, E., Dodd, B. and Monteith, D. (2019). Estimating habitat extent and carbon loss from an eroded northern blanket bog using UAV derived imagery and topography. Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment, 43(2), 282-298. Available online. DOI: 10.1177/0309133319841300.

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Abstract

Peatlands are important reserves of terrestrial carbon and biodiversity, and given that many peatlands across the UK and Europe exist in a degraded state, their conservation is a major area of concern and a focus of considerable research. Aerial surveys are valuable tools for habitat mapping and conservation and provide useful insights into their condition. We investigate how SfM photogrammetry-derived topography and habitat classes may be used to construct an estimate of carbon loss from erosion features in a remote blanket bog habitat. An autonomous, unmanned, aerial, fixed-wing remote sensing platform (Quest UAV 300™) collected imagery over Moor House, in the Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve, a site with a high degree of peatland erosion. The images were used to generate point clouds into orthomosaics and digital surface models using SfM photogrammetry techniques, georeferenced and subsequently used to classify vegetation and peatland features. A classification of peatbog feature types was developed using a random forest classification model trained on field survey data and applied to UAV-captured products including the orthomosaic, digital surface model and derived surfaces such as topographic index, slope and aspect maps. Using the area classified as eroded peat and the derived digital surface model, we estimated a loss of 438 tonnes of carbon from a single gully. The UAV system was relatively straightforward to deploy in such a remote and unimproved area. SfM photogrammetry, imagery and random forest modelling obtained classification accuracies of between 42% and 100%, and was able to discern between bare peat, saturated bog and sphagnum habitats. This paper shows what can be achieved with low-cost UAVs equipped with consumer grade camera equipment and relatively straightforward ground control, and demonstrates their potential for the carbon and peatland conservation research community.