Developing a statistical methodology for the assessment and management of peatland (StAMP)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering

Abstract

In good condition, peatlands are the most efficient carbon store of all soils. They regulate freshwater supply (peatlands are 95% water) and quality, mitigate climate change by storing greenhouse gases, and maintain biodiversity. Land use management interventions (e.g. use of peat for agriculture, drainage, forestry, burning for game management and recreation) can compromise the delivery of all these services by destabilising the vast carbon store that peat has locked away over thousands of years. The UK has 2 Mha of peatlands (10% land area), however, up to 80% of these peatlands are damaged to some degree. It is estimated that degraded UK peatlands emit 10 Mt C a-1, a similar magnitude to oil refineries or landfill sites, placing the UK among the top 20 countries for emissions of carbon from degrading peat.

Restoring degraded peatlands to halt carbon losses is an essential part of a global strategy to fight climate change. However, to date, we do not have a tool to help us assess how land use affects peatland condition in a cost effective manner over large and often remote areas, making it difficult to identify which areas should be prioritised for management intervention. In the UK, several millions of pounds of public money have already been invested in large-scale peatland restoration projects yet we do not have a reliable and robust way to evaluate the effectiveness of restoration. These are important gaps in our knowledge that prevent us from being able to make cost-effective choices when it comes to peatland management

With this project, we will develop new statistical methods to detect change in the condition of peatland landscapes from data collected by satellites. In a previous research project, we showed that peatland condition can be found from satellite data that measures surface motion of the peat. A wet peat in good condition displays very different characteristics to dry peat in poor condition. However, our satellite-based approach produces too much complex data that cannot be reliably and consistently analysed by eye.

We aim to inform peatland management decisions by developing a new statistical method that can robustly and consistently quantify the changes in the peatland landscape from the satellite data. This requires methods capable of handling extremely large and complex structured datasets. In statistics, a new framework, known as Object-Oriented Data Analysis (OODA), is ideally suited to achieve this purpose by building models based on suitable choices of data objects. OODA can be used for developing parsimonious models for detecting change, and for quantifying uncertainty in predictions. OODA of the satellite data as functions of space and time will enable the modelling of trends and variability in the different regions, and the detection of reg change in the peatland.

Our project will develop the OODA method further than its current capabilities and apply this method to the satellite datasets of peat surface motion. The result will be a series of maps that illustrate the change in peatland landscape over time that are designed to be used by land managers and policy makers to guide decision making. This will help reduce unnecessary spending and prioritise the most urgent and strategic areas for peat restoration. Our novel approach combining state-of-the-art statistical methods with satellite data will provide a reliable tool to evaluate investments in peat restoration and report to funding bodies. The ability to quantify changes in the peat landscape using statistics should provide confidence to peatland managers and to those who fund and invest in peatland restoration, enabling them to make better choices for peatlands.

Planned Impact

Peatlands account for a third of Earth's soil carbon and provide a full spectrum of ecosystem services. Globally, they are under pressure from land-use, climate change, and erosion. Carbon losses associated with these disturbances are economically and ecologically costly. Large-scale restoration of peatlands is being implemented globally through industry or government funding, and peatlands feature with increasing prominence in national strategies for biodiversity and greenhouse gas mitigation. However, in all instances, funding, resources and evaluations are limited in their spatial application and therefore, there is a critical and urgent need to develop tools that will aid the cost-effective management of peatland landscapes. The statistical methods, data outputs and provisioning for a decision support tool from this project will address this need and benefit peatland landscape and environmental management via public, private, third sector landowners and regulators in the UK with potential international transfer to global peatlands.
The impacts of this research are:
To provide quantitative statistical evidence of changing peatland condition to support land managers by highlighting which management strategies are most effective and predicting the future impact of land-use decision making. Such quantification will enhance mandatory reports to funding agencies, provide robust justification for continued investment in peatland restoration and encourage joined up thinking between landscape managers.
Supply policy maker, third sector organisations and practitioners with evidence that could support better restoration practices over existing drain blocking, forestry removal, brash management and rewetting programmes.
Influence public policies and legislation at a local, regional, national and international level in relation to peatland management by transforming the current land use decision-process and providing a statistical assessment of the impact of extreme events (e.g. drought) and climate change on peatland landscapes.
Create new knowledge and services that may be attractive to research and development investors from global businesses, especially in the development of satellite products through our project partner (Geomatic Ventures Ltd)
More specifically, key stakeholder groups that this research will impact include:
Peatland owning and management community, including project partner Forest and Land Scotland but also crofters, private landowners, sporting estates.
Policy stakeholders with a direct interest in peatland, including the devolved administrations, agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage (project partner), SEPA, DEFRA, Climate Change Adaptation Sub-committee, Scottish Forestry.
Third sector organisations with active involvement in peatland management, including landowning NGOs and NGOs that manage and work on peatland-rich areas, including RSPB, PlantLife, John Muir Trust, National Trust.
Water industry (Scottish Water in particular) who need to manage peatland catchments and associated water quality.
World Heritage Site (WHS) working group, facilitating associated businesses in the tourism & recreation sector. Co-I Andersen sits on the WHS working group.
- Public, including youth, with interests in climate change, conservation, biodiversity. This would also include artists with who the research team has interacted in the past to create work informed by the science and inspired by the peatlands.
- Professional Bodies and associations interested in peatlands, including project partner Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN body), Global Peatland Initiative, International Peatland Society. The team has members or key contacts in all these bodies.
Finally, a wide dissemination of our results will contribute to increasing public awareness of the key role of peatlands in climate and water regulation, catalysing environmentally aware attitudes and behavioural change.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title The Special Blanket 
Description PI Roxane Andersen wrote a short poem about the Flow Country inspired by the FireBlanket and InSAR TOPS and StAMP projects. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact The story was used by a story teller from the Scottish Story Telling Centre on GLOW, the online teaching platform for Sctoland to teach pupils from primary and secondary schools about peatlands and climate change. The story was also read at COP26. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEDZ0Dtctvg&list=PL0a4VA842IvP31SGL9dxLefcJ0_t16cNm&index=33
 
Description We have demonstrated that the Object Oriented Data Analysis framework can be successfully applied to classifying peatland condition over the Flow Country and this classification has been validated against field data
Exploitation Route The method is numerically efficient and provides a more robust statistical classification that can be use to quantify change
Sectors Environment

 
Description Our findings have been presented to Nature Scot who, as partners, are support enhanced validation work over a number of sites in Scotland
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Gave Evidence for parliamentary POSTnote
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description I contributed to HOUSE OF LORDS Science and Technology Select Committee 2nd Report of Session 2021-22 HL Paper 147 Nature-based solutions: rhetoric or reality?
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/8646/documents/87644/default/
 
Description Improving MOdelling approaches to assess climate change-related THresholds and Ecological Range SHIfts in the Earth's Peatland ecosystems (MOTHERSHIP)
Amount £3,700,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/V01840X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 03/2027
 
Description Use of InSAR to monitor Peatland Action sites
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation NatureScot 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2019 
End 07/2023
 
Description Using Peat Surface Motion (Bog Breathing) to Monitor Peatland ACTION sites
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Forestry and Land Scotland 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2019 
End 07/2023
 
Description FAO collaboration 
Organisation Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)
Country Italy 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are contributing expertise and advances in peatland monitoring with the potential for global application
Collaborator Contribution FAO expressed interest in our work from the outset of the StAMP project and are facilitating the promotion of our methods via a series of International meetings
Impact The first FAO meeting at which we will present is Advancing Peatland Monitoring: recent results from Indonesia was in Mar 22
Start Year 2021
 
Description Scottish Natural Heritage 
Organisation NatureScot
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Project meetings, data sharing, future project planning. We have contributed to the Flow Country, World Heritage Site application. SNH are administering our £55k Peatland Action funding on behalf of the Scottish Government. In this context we are providing monthly reports and holding meetings every 3 months. Our partnership with Nature Scot has continued as our research has developed and we are using their sites to validate our new statistical methods
Collaborator Contribution SNH have acted as a partner on a couple of grant applications. SNH have provided feedback on results and advised on future funding strategies and have provide data on peat distribution.
Impact A report was produced to Nature Scot on peatland monitoring and this has been supplemented in various meetings by developments relating to progress on the StAMP grant
Start Year 2017
 
Description BBC East Midlands today and BBC Radio Nottingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed for BBC East Midlands today about peatland and peatland monitoring. The interview was broadcast on television and the longer version used on local radio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL http://my.tvey.es/e2TFz
 
Description BogTales 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Through the Scottish Alliance for Geosciences, Environment and Society, I helped organise, run, and took part in a story telling workshop that led to a public event where short stories inspired by research were performed by their authors online on International Bog Day. Following from the event, I was asked to share the story with the Scottish Storyteller Centre and it was subsequently used to teach primary and secondary pupils about peatlands and climate change via GLOW, Scotland's online teaching resource. I was also invited to do a reading of the story at COP26. We are now working towards the publication of the story and the science behind the story into a children's book.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.sages.ac.uk/july-bog-tales/
 
Description COP26 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Roxane Andersen took part COP26 between the 3-7th November 2021, where she had been formally invited to share thoughts about Collaboration in Science as part of "Generation Peat", to present a review of "Peatland Restoration in Europe" in the event "Peatlands restoration for greater resilience and adaptation" and an overview of research in the Flow Country in a session about "A world heritage site in Scotland: The Flow Country" all in the UNFCPP Peatlands Pavilion (Blue Zone), as well as a short presentation on remote sensing of bog breathing in a "Flow Country" session in the multi-level pavilion (Blue Zone).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3smK61YbiErWWpI2MntTdQ/videos
 
Description Contributed to Science and Technology Select Committee 2nd Report of Session 2021-22 HL Paper 147 Nature-based solutions: rhetoric or reality? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to contribute to this report and my contribution on peatland monitoring was included
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/8646/documents/87644/default/
 
Description Contribution to NY time piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was asked to provide an interview to the NY Times for a piece on peatland, based on a growing demand from the public to be better informed about peatlands and their role in mitigating the climate and biodiversity crises. I gave a 1h interview over the phone, after which the journalist mentioned they would follow up in the future. Following the interview, the NY times prepared an interactive piece published online that was widely circulated and shared on social media and emails.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/02/21/headway/peat-carbon-climate-change.html?smid=em-share
 
Description Contribution to a parliamentary POSTnote on UK peatland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was interviewed by a parliamentary researcher who was compiling information on UK peatland for MPs. Impact and outcomes as yet is unknown
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description FAO meeting on Advancing Peatland Monitoring: recent results from Indonesia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The purpose of the meeting which targeted an international audience was to illustrate both local data and developing solutions to peatland monitoring in the tropics. We contributed based on our work in Colombia and Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Inaugural Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 300 people attended my inaugural professorial lecture entitled "Carbon plante: A journey into the Science of Peatland" on 2nd of June 2021. The event, held online due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, led to a series of invitation to deliver more targeted, shorter talks to a range of organisations, including the Association of Chartered Foresters, Plantlife and others. At the time, the lecture was the most well attended inaugural lecture hosted by the UHI and has since been made available as a video recording on the University's youtube channel.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://youtu.be/AiMb5WE2qOc
 
Description Interview with German based ZDF TV 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact In the lead up to COP26, I spent a day filming with a German TV crew from ZDF with contractors involved in restoration management in the Flow Country. As part of the interview, I discussed the role of peatland restoration in climate change mitigation and development, monitoring of restoration outcomes and importance of peatlands for biodiversity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.3sat.de/wissen/nano/211105-sendung-nano-102.html
 
Description Invited speaker at JNCC organised meeting promoting the use of ESA Copernicus data in Latin America 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Purpose was to promote the use of Copernicus satellite data. I presented our work on the use of Sentinel 1 data with examples for UK and Colombia. This created notable interest in our novel applications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation to UK Chief Scientists Group organised by JNCC in Oct 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Purpose of the meeting was for the Chief Scientists group with respect to Nature Conservation to consider the options for peatland monitoring. I presented our work on use of satellite surface motion monitoring of peatland. Although not certain this may have led to subsequent activities including being invited to contribute to a POSTnote and House of Lords report on Nature Based Solutions. Goverment funding to continue to develop our work has also been on-going in Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Public Seminar for the School of Biological Sciences (Aberdeen University) - A decade of forestry and forest-to-bog restoration in the Flow Country 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to contribute to the University of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences Weekly Seminar Series, which targets undergraduate and post graduate students. The talk highlighted the role of ECR in developing the science base around impacts of forestry and forest-to-bog restoration in the Flow Country and included discussion around the impacts of climate change, droughts, wildfires and the use of remote sensing technology based on InSAR to gain a better understanding of restoration outcomes and resilience. Following the talk, I was invited to take part in an interview with one of the undergraduate student, who indicated that the talk had made her interested in pursuing further studies in peatland research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description TV interview - ARD TV 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact In the lead up to COP26, I gave an interview to German-based ARD TV about peatlands, climate change and restoration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEDZ0Dtctvg&list=PL0a4VA842IvP31SGL9dxLefcJ0_t16cNm&index=33
 
Description The road to COP26 by DC Thomson & Co Ltd. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact In the lead up to COP26, Roxane Andersen and Chris Marshall gave an interview for the documentary the road to COP26, which was published in the press and online as a film. The presenters and crew were impressed by the scale of work and the importance of the research undertaken in the local area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/business-environment/environment/2722896/climate-crisis-road-trip-do...
 
Description Webinar to Association of Chartered Forester - A decade of research on forestry and forest to bog in the Flow Country 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Following the FireBlanket workshop, I was invited to give a talk to the association of chartered forester about research in to forestry and forest-to-bog research in the Flow Country, which included discussions around the impacts of climate change and wildfires as well as development using InSAR technology to monitor peatland restoration outcome and long-term resilience of blanket bog across a range of condition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021