Spectral detection of near-surface moisture content and water-table position in northern peatland ecosystems

Karl M. Meingast, Michael J. Falkowski, Evan S. Kane, Lynette R. Potvin, Brian W. Benscoter, Alistair M.S. Smith, Laura L. Bourgeau-Chavez, Mary Ellen Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Wildland fire occurrence has been increasing in peatland ecosystems during recent decades. As such, there is a need for broadly applicable tools to detect and monitor controls on combustion such as surface peat moisture and water-table position. A field portable spectroradiometer was used to measure surface reflectance of two Sphagnum moss-dominated peatland experiments, one being an experimental study utilizing a factorial experiment of vegetation and water-table manipulations and the other being a field site located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that is broadly representative of northern peatland ecosystems. Relationships were developed correlating spectral indices to surface moisture as well as water-table position using the surface reflectance data. Spectral convolutions, or integrations of the hyperspectral data with the relative spectral response curves of multispectral sensors, were also applied to represent spectral sensitivity of commonly used Earth observing sensors. Band ratios previously used to monitor surface moisture with these sensors were assessed. Strong relationships with surface moisture and water-table position are evident for both the narrow-band indices as well as broad-band indices. This study also revealed a dependence of spectral relationships on changes in vegetation cover, particularly ericoid shrubs, within the vegetation manipulation experiment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)536-546
Number of pages11
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Sep 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was primarily supported by the NASA Terrestrial Ecology Program (Grants: NNX14AF96G , NNX12AK31G , NNX09AM156 ) and the Joint Fire Sciences Program (Grant: L11AC20267-JFSP 11-1-5-16). The National Science Foundation ( DEB-1146149 ), The USDA Forest Service and the MTU Ecosystem Science Center provided additional in kind support. We are grateful to Plum Creek Timber for allowing this research to be conducted on the Nestoria Field site. The authors would also like to thank Dr. Thomas Oommen and Dr. Nancy French as well as two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on the manuscript.


  • Fire
  • Hyperspectral
  • Moisture content
  • Peatland
  • Spectral
  • Water table

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