EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Value added? Comparative estimates of peat basin volumetrics using borehole methods and 3D ground-penetrating radar

Luis Rees-Hughes1, Natasha Barlow1, Adam Booth1, Jared West1, Tim Grossey2, and George Tuckwell2
Luis Rees-Hughes et al.
  • 1University of Leeds, Applied Geoscience, School of Earth and Environment, Leeds, United Kingdom
  • 2RSK Ltd, 18, Frogmore Road, Hemel Hempstead, Herts, HP3 9RT, United Kingdom

Peatlands have long been recognized as providing a wide range of ecosystem services valuable to humans. In recent decades their role in the global climate and particularly their importance in long-term carbon sequestration has come into focus. Peatlands and peat basins are an important carbon store globally, and are estimated to cover nearly 25% of the Scottish landscape: they constitute a significant carbon stock, but being able to accurately estimate the volume of peat stored in coastal basins, both locally and regionally, remains a time-consuming process. Traditional methods of investigating peat depth and volume involved the measurement of peat to depth of contact with a mineral horizon, such as sand. This process is conducted with a peat depth probe or corer, with the spatial density of measurements varying significantly with basin size. Volumetric assessments based on such measurements therefore require interpolation between control points, leading to unquantifiable errors particularly if the base of peat has significant and unrecorded topography. Geophysical methods, in particular the 3D application of ground-penetrating (GPR), offer a promising solution to improve the accuracy in basin volumetrics.

In this paper, a 3D dataset of 100 MHz GPR data was acquired with a Mala Geosciences Rough Terrain system over a buried Holocene coastal environment near Arisaig, northwest Scotland. 3D surveying involves the acquisition of a suite of parallel GPR profiles, with a small profile separation to capture the full variability of subsurface structure. For this site, a profile was acquired every 0.5 m, over an area of 62 x 32 m.  The site is also sampled by 39 boreholes, which record the base of peat between 1-3.2 m depth and indicate a peat volume of 3720 m3. By revealing the true topography of the base of the basin, the GPR data suggest that the borehole-derived volume is overestimated by almost 50%, and instead predict a basin volume of 2529 ± 200 m3. Of this, 2064 ± 200 m3 is classified as organic peat (81.6%) and the remaining 465 ± 200 m3 is marine clay (18.4%).  The principal source of error in this estimate is in the constraint of the GPR velocity, required to convert the time-axis of the GPR dataset to depth. This was measured at 0.034 m/ns ± 8%.

The acquisition of 3D GPR data is nonetheless time-consuming and requires precise positional control to locate the GPR antennas and avoid misinterpretation. Nonetheless, sufficient topographic information is captured even if the acquisition had recorded only every 5th GPR profile: for this downsampled dataset, the estimated basin volume is 2490 m3 ± 200 m3 (a difference of only 2.5% from the full 3D dataset). 3D survey methods, therefore, give confidence to a volumetric estimate, but the need for full-resolution 3D sampling can likely be relaxed. However, GPR surveys reveal subsurface variability that would be difficult to reconstruct from a sparse set of borehole observations. Nonetheless, some amount of borehole control is invaluable for validating the GPR data and providing ground-truth control of subsurface structure.

How to cite: Rees-Hughes, L., Barlow, N., Booth, A., West, J., Grossey, T., and Tuckwell, G.: Value added? Comparative estimates of peat basin volumetrics using borehole methods and 3D ground-penetrating radar, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9898,, 2021.

Comments on the display

to access the discussion