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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Jeff Warburton

Smith, M.W. & Warburton, J. (2018). Microtopography of bare peat: a conceptual model and objective classification from high-resolution topographic survey data. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 43(8): 1557-1574.

Author(s) from Durham


Peatlands globally are at risk of degradation through increased susceptibility to erosion as a result of climate change. Quantification of peat erosion and an understanding of the processes responsible for their degradation is required if eroded peatlands are to be protected and restored. Owing to the unique material properties of peat, fine‐scale microtopographic expressions of surface processes are especially pronounced and present a potentially rich source of geomorphological information, providing valuable insights into the stability and dominant surface process regimes. We present a new process‐form conceptual framework to rigorously describe bare peat microtopography and use Structure‐from‐Motion (SfM) surveys to quantify roughness for different peat surfaces. Through the first geomorphological application of a survey‐grade structured‐light hand‐held 3D imager (HhI), which can represent sub‐millimetre topographic variability in field conditions, we demonstrate that SfM identifies roughness signatures reliably over bare peat plots (<1 m2), although some smoothing is observed. Across 55 plots, the roughness of microtopographic types is quantified using a suite of roughness metrics and an objective classification system derived from decision tree analysis with 98% success. This objective classification requires just five roughness metrics, each of which quantifies a different aspect of the surface morphology. We show that through a combination of roughness metrics, microtopographic types can be identified objectively from high resolution survey data, providing a much‐needed geomorphological process‐perspective to observations of eroded peat volumes and earth surface change.