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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

Remote sensing and digital terrain analysis of peat landslides and potentially unstable peatlands

Executive Summary
ResearchersDr A. P. Dykes (Principal Investigator (CI on NERC ARSF application)): CEESR
Dr M. J. Smith (Co-investigator (PI on NERC ARSF application)): CEESR
Dr J. Warburton (Co-investigator): Department of Geography, Durham University
Funding Body/SourceBritish Society for Geomorphology and NERC
DurationJune 2007-ongoing
Project SummaryThis research aims to address the problems of assessing the potential instability and characterising past failures of remote upland blanket bogs by investigating the utility of remote sensing techniques for application to these environments.

Many peatlands are susceptible to surface instability and failure and this susceptibility may be increasing as a consequence of climate change. Reliable assessments of future environmental and possibly economic impacts of more frequent peat landslides require accurate knowledge of the past frequency, true spatial distribution and morphological characteristics (including volumetric peat loss) of these events. Typically these failures occur on remote uplands where access for field investigation is difficult, so the necessary information is often not available.

Above left: NERC ARSF analogue air photograph of the Hart Hope peat slide, Upper Teesdale, taken on 6 August 1995 (6 months after the event). The landslide is 550 m long. Copyright NERC. Above right: Landsat ETM+ panchromatic 15 m resolution image of the same area.

The research will assess remotely sensed data as a viable tool for investigating peat mass movements. The initial work aims to establish whether peat failure sites can be reliably identified and characterised from routinely available sources of remotely-sensed elevation data (including a DTM created from analogue stereopair air photographs), and to determine the optimum type and resolution of the remotely sensed data that will enable reliable identification and chacterisation to be made. LiDAR data has been requested for a site in the North Pennines, including the Hart Hope peat slide, to facilitate quantitative evaluation of this type of elevation data.

Subsequent research is being developed that will establish spectral identification of peat failures using satellite imagery, which will enable us to estimate the true spatial frequency of blanket peat failures in Ireland and northern England and, through the use of archive imagery, establish the use of spectral signatures to indicate any potential susceptibility of intact blanket bogs to future failure.

Further information/links

The Hart Hope peat slide is described in:
Warburton, J, Higgitt, D and Mills, A (2003) 'Anatomy of a Pennine peat slide'. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 28, 457-473.

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