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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Delineating the distribution of mineral and peat soils a the landscape scale in northern boreal regions

Agren, Anneli M.; Hasselquist, Eliza Maher; Stendahl, Johan; Nilsson, Mats B.; Paul, Siddhartho S.


To meet the sustainable development goals and enable sustainable management and protection of peatlands, there is a strong need for improving the mapping of peatlands. Here we present a novel approach to identify peat soils based on a high-resolution digital soil moisture map that was produced by combining airborne laser scanning-derived terrain indices and machine learning to model soil moisture at 2 m spatial resolution across the Swedish landscape. As soil moisture is a key factor in peat formation, we fitted an empirical relationship between the thickness of the organic layer (measured at 5479 soil plots across the country) and the continuous SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Science) soil moisture map (R2= 0.66, p< 0.001). We generated categorical maps of peat occurrence using three different definitions of peat (30, 40, and 50 cm thickness of the organic layer) and a continuous map of organic layer thickness. The predicted peat maps had a higher overall quality (MCC = 0.69–0.73) compared to traditional Quaternary deposits maps (MCC = 0.65) and topographical maps (MCC = 0.61) and captured the peatlands with a recall of ca. 80 % compared to 50 %–70 % on the traditional maps. The predicted peat maps identified more peatland area than previous maps, and the areal coverage estimates fell within the same order as upscaling estimates from national field surveys. Our method was able to identify smaller peatlands resulting in more accurate maps of peat soils, which was not restricted to only large peatlands that can be visually detected from aerial imagery – the historical approach of mapping. We also provided a continuous map of the organic layer, which ranged 6–88 cm organic layer thickness, with an R2 of 0.67 and RMSE (root mean square error) of 19 cm. The continuous map exhibits a smooth transition of organic layers from mineral soil to peat soils and likely provides a more natural representation of the distribution of soils. The continuous map also provides an intuitive uncertainty estimate in the delineation of peat soils, critically useful for sustainable spatial planning, e.g., greenhouse gas or biodiversity inventories and landscape ecological research.

Published in

2022, Volume: 8, number: 2, pages: 733-749