31 Jul 2023
 | 31 Jul 2023

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 Catherine Miller, Craig Smeaton, and William Edward Newns Austin

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 habitat.

William Hiles et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1185', Anonymous Referee #1, 15 Aug 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1185', Anonymous Referee #2, 07 Sep 2023

William Hiles et al.

William Hiles et al.


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Short summary
Saltmarsh soils may help to limit the rate of climate change by storing carbon. To understand their impacts, they must be accurately mapped. We use drone data to estimate the size of three saltmarshes in NE Scotland. We find that drone imagery, combined with tidal data, can reliably inform our understanding of saltmarsh size. When compared with previous work using vegetation communities, we find that our most reliable new estimates of stored carbon are 15–20 % smaller than previously estimated.