In this novel research, we want to improve the management and protection of peatland in Scotland by using satellite images. Our objectives are:
* Aid assessment of regeneration activities in Scottish peatlands.
* Provide real time tools to assess if peatland are approaching un-reversable conditions.
* Help assess areas in Scotland where peatland could be regenerated.
Peatlands are the most efficient terrestrial store of carbon (C) on Earth; in less than 3% of land area, they hold 600 Gt of carbon, almost as much as the total carbon in the atmosphere . Peatlands play an important role in the global Carbon cycle, including the recovery from anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Peatlands also deliver a range of other important benefits to society, such as flood prevention, provision of fresh water, support of biodiversity, natural archives for past climate and history, recreation opportunities and provision of fuel . Provision of these Ecosystem Services are closely linked to peat hydrology through complex feedback mechanisms  which are inherently resilient, as suggested by their persistence of peatlands as natural C sinks since the last glacial maximum. However, disturbance of hydrology through land use change (e.g. drainage, afforestation, over-grazing) can compromise the delivery of ecosystem services, with significant costs to society [4,5].
To monitor peatland condition, including vegetation cover and hydrology, this project we will use satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which is able to obtain images of the environment from space using microwaves. It allows us to acquire images independent of weather condition and solar illumination, which is very valuable in areas with frequent cloud cover. We will also use polarimetry (PolSAR), a cutting-edge radar technology. The advantage of PolSAR is that we can use the polarisation of the radar echo to obtain more images and therefore more information about objects in the scene . In addition to using satellite data, we will be carrying out extensive experiments using ground radar which can simulate images obtained from satellites. Finally, we will make use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV; “drone”) based observations for field validation and rapid local assessment using low cost aircrafts. This will provide measurements related to the moisture content and vegetation cover of the peatlands.
A strong motivation for using satellite images is that we have entered a new era of freely available satellite data (e.g. the ESA Sentinel constellation missions ). We are experiencing a rapid growth of activities in the Space industry and the Earth Observation sector. When paired to the exponentially growing sector of unmanned aerial monitoring, this opportunity not only supports businesses activities but also provides many state of the art tools to the environmental management community. Although there is a richness in free data, we still face the challenge of interpreting information on peatlands over large areas on a regular basis to track their inter-seasonal and inter-annual dynamics.
The remote sensing development work will be accompanied by substantial fieldwork in Scotland with at least quarterly visits to peatlands of interest. We will be using water table loggers installed in several peatlands around Scotland (e.g. Flanders Moss) where regeneration has been carried out. If successful, the results will contribute to the monitoring and assessment of Peatland ACTION peatland restoration success.
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Flanders Moss as seen from the observation tower (credits: Nature Scot)