Combining Remote Sensing Technologies for Peatland Detection and Characterization

PeatslandPeatlands are extraordinary reservoirs of organic carbon that can be found over a wide range of latitudes, in tropical, to temperate, to (sub)polar climates. Peat is a mixture of organic material that is produced by wetland plants as it accumulates in the soil for long periods of time. The continuously or cyclically anaerobic conditions characteristic of wetland soils slow down the oxidation of dead and decaying plant material, leading to the accumulation of partially decomposed organic matter. Large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses (GHG) are originated from the degradation of peatlands. It is in fact estimated that the total emission from degraded peatlands and peat fires corresponds to about 2 billion t of CO2 equivalent per year, which is about 6% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Unfortunately, the degradation of vast peatlands due to anthropic activities, as for example land reclamation, combined with severe drought events due to global warming, have greatly increased their vulnerability to fires. Another source of peatland degradation is global warming itself, which is thawing permafrost peatlands, triggering climate-feedback mechanisms that are still uncertain.

The conservation of peatlands is one of the main measures indicated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to mitigate climate change. This type of action necessarily needs a precise assessment of the avoided potential emissions linked to conservation strategies and accurate methods to monitor peatland changes over time. Hence, a precise quantification of peat deposits at the regional scale is urgently needed.

The CReScenDo project aims at quantifying the extent and thickness of peat deposits, from the local to the regional scale, to accurately define their importance in the global carbon cycle. In the process, the project will develop a radically new observational methodology making use of remote sensing and airborne geophysical sensors. Specifically CReScenDo aims at combining Airborne Electromagnetic (AEM) measurements with multispectral satellite data, field measurements and lab analyses, in order to estimate and map peatland carbon stock in three selected study sites. The methodology developed during the project can be applied to other areas around the world, allowing a precise assessment of the peat deposits, which is the first essential step needed to implement conservation policies at the national and international level.