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Monitoring land motion in UK peatland areas

CASE STUDY: TerraMotion in collaboration with the University of Nottingham

Through SPRINT funding, TerraMotion has collaborated with the University of Nottingham on the development of a unique technique to monitor land motion in rural areas. The solution is aimed at enhancing the management, conservation and restoration of peatland across the UK.

Nottingham-based TerraMotion is a specialist in geospatial, mapping and land motion solutions. The company has developed a unique Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) technique known as ISBAS (Intermittent Small Baseline Subset) that can identify and monitor very precise surface ground movements as an early warning system for a range of industries.

Its method is unique in that it can survey all classes of terrain and land cover types, including vegetation, to millimetre precision where InSAR algorithms habitually struggle

Developing novel technique for monitoring peatland

Through SPRINT funding, TerraMotion has collaborated with the University of Nottingham on the development of a unique technique to monitor land motion in rural areas. The solution is aimed at enhancing the management, conservation and restoration of peatland across the UK.

Peatlands cover approximately 10 per cent of the land area in the UK with blanket bog and it has been estimated that up to 80 per cent of UK peatlands are degraded to some extent.

The prioritisation of areas for restoration and conservation of peatlands has been identified as a key priority in the National Peatland Strategy. To achieve this, the first step is a nationwide characterisation of peatland condition and there is currently no cost-effective way of monitoring the state of large areas of peatlands or quantifying the response of peatland to management intervention.

Building on academic expertise in InSAR data

The SPRINT project is the first in the UK to be delivered by a non-SPRINT partner university and builds on the University of Nottingham’s expertise in using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data to provide a measure of the extent of peatland and its condition. Ground height is the key driver for the peatland condition monitoring and the project aimed to validate the InSAR ground height data using Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data from a ground height testing facility

The SPRINT project extends the preliminary work done in a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) soil security project. In 2018, researchers at the University of Nottingham also developed groundbreaking technology to create a new UK-wide ground motion map. Using thousands of satellite radar images, the technology was applied under license by TerraMotion to create a complete land motion map of the UK as a natural progression from the first country-wide map of ground motion in Scotland.

Benefits achieved through the SPRINT project include:

  • Data and research from SPRINT project have resulted in commercially-funded partnership with the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
  • Strong interest from European countries in mapping peatland – linked to SPRINT and other projects
  • Data supporting research in Ireland following major peat failure incident

Moving towards commercialisation

Andy Sowter, Chief Technical Officer at TerraMotion

“Our focus is to develop a novel technique to monitor land motion, applying the technology to rural areas, in particular. Nobody has come up with a solution for fields and forests so with the IP already developed at the University of Nottingham, we started a company to exploit the technology.

“Lots of degraded peat gives off greenhouses gases so the restoration of peat is essential, but there is no real way of monitoring its success. When peat is degraded, it subsides, so we attempted to use a technique to look at mapping the condition of peat across the landscape, using surveying and GNSS to evaluate the data.

“The funding from SPRINT supported our research with the University of Nottingham and we are looking to develop this technology into a commercial peat classification service for a range of UK agencies and landowners, such as Scottish Natural Heritage, and Forestry and Land Scotland in Scotland.”

Andy Sowter continues: “The SPRINT project was important to TerraMotion as it provided us with an opportunity to demonstrate the capability of our approach. By integrating with GNSS, we were hoping to increase client confidence in the technology but despite great results in terms of data gathered, the integration of GNSS didn’t work with the precision required so we are actively pursuing other solutions.

“As a result of the data and research with Nottingham during the SPRINT project, we’ve been able to develop a commercial partnership with the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, which carries out excellent environmental science across water, land and air.”

“This is a significant project to measure the motion of peat in fields, using satellite techniques, with a view to carbon offsetting. The University of Nottingham is also involved in this validation project and it’s a real step towards commercialisation of our technology.”

Adding value through data interpretation

“At a previous workshop in Scotland, we explored how useful this land monitoring technology could be but needed evidence to prove the theory. Consequently, we’ve been looking for an effective way of demonstrating the link between movement of surface land and peat condition. This is particularly challenging on the surface of soft, wet peatland.

“The University of Nottingham added value to the SPRINT project by interpreting the data in a meaningful way by using GNSS aimed at enabling TerraMotion to enhance the process, as well as understanding the outputs and what structures are required.

“One potential user of the new technology could be the Scottish Government which has pledged £250 million over the next 10 years to restore peatland in Scotland, preserving the country’s natural assets and helping it to become carbon neutral.”

David Large, Associate Professor at University of Nottingham

“Using TerraMotion data obtained during the SPRINT project, we’ve been helping the research community in Ireland looking at a major incident of peat failure and a resulting bog burst.”

“Here, exceptional rainfall triggered a major landslide at Dawn of Hope in County Leitrim in the Republic of Ireland. Tonnes of peat were lost in multiple landslides near Drumkeeran, when the mountain bog slid down the Shass Mountain and through the Dawn of Hope Bridge, creating significant damage and potentially lasting impact on the environment.

“As part of the work for TerraMotion, we started to look at risk indicators and in particular, whether high amplitude motion is a precursor to failure. The Dawn of Hope slide was the first really big one during the period of Sentinel 1 monitoring and sure enough, there are anomalous precursor high amplitude motions on the site of the failure up to at least a year in advance. The next move on this front will be to produce a risk map and test against historical evidence of peat failure.”


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