UAV approaches for improved mapping of vegetation cover and estimation of carbon storage of small saltmarshes: examples from Loch Fleet, northeast Scotland

William Hiles, Lucy c. Miller, Craig Smeaton, William e. n. Austin

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Abstract

Saltmarsh environments are recognised as key components of many biophysical and biochemical processes at the local and global scale. Accurately mapping these environments, and understanding how they are changing over time, is crucial for better understanding these systems. However, traditional surveying techniques are time-consuming and are inadequate for understanding how these dynamic systems may be changing temporally and spatially. The development of uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) technology presents an opportunity for efficiently mapping saltmarsh extent. Here we develop a methodology which combines field vegetation surveys with multispectral UAV data collected at two scales to estimate saltmarsh area and organic carbon storage at three saltmarshes in Loch Fleet (Scotland). We find that the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values for surveyed saltmarsh vegetation communities, in combination with local tidal data, can be used to reliably estimate saltmarsh area. Using these area estimates, together with known plant community and soil organic carbon relationships, saltmarsh soil organic carbon storage is modelled. Based on our most reliable UAV-derived saltmarsh area estimates, we find that organic carbon storage is 15 %–20 % lower than previous area estimates would indicate. The methodology presented here potentially provides a cheap, affordable, and rapid method for saltmarsh mapping which could be implemented more widely to test and refine existing estimates of saltmarsh extent and is particularly well-suited to the mapping of small areas of saltmarsh environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)929-948
Number of pages20
JournalBiogeosciences
Volume21
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2024

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