Multi-source remote sensing data reveals complex topsoil organic carbon dynamics in coastal wetlands

Miguel Villoslada, Liis Sipelgas, Thaisa Fernandes Bergamo, Raymond Ward, Endla Reintam, Alar Astover, Timo Kumpula, Kalev Sepp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coastal wetlands are considered important stores of blue carbon, containing some of the largest stores of pedologic and biotic carbon per unit area on the planet. These ecosystems are however highly sensitive to Climate Change and changes in the management practices. It is of utmost importance to address relevant ecosystem scales in order to fully understand carbon dynamics in coastal wetlands. In this regard, Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can provide spatial scales detailed enough to address the fine scale patters of topsoil organic carbon accumulation in coastal wetlands. This study demonstrates the use of multispectral and photogrammetric data derived from UAVs to accurately map plant communities and topsoil organic carbon concentration in coastal wetlands. The overall accuracies from the classification of plant communities ranged from 88% to 97% whereas RMSE for topsoil organic carbon concentration ranged from 2.44% to 0.74%. By combining both models, site-specific variations in topsoil carbon concentrations among plant communities were unveiled. Open pioneer communities consistently showed the lowest topsoil organic carbon concentration, while the concentrations vary considerably across plant communities characterized by denser vegetation coverage. Furthermore, Sentinel-1 radar data was used to assess the spatial patterns of flood frequency. GAMs were used to combine flood frequency with the plant communities and topsoil organic carbon models, as well as an aboveground biomass (AGB) model from a previous study. GAMs revealed a stronger effect than flood frequency on topsoil organic carbon. Regarding flooding, increased flood frequency generally led decreased topsoil organic concentrations across communities and sites. However, the relative contribution of flood frequency to topsoil organic carbon concentration in Baltic coastal wetlands depends strongly on the location of the wetland and the nature of the floods. Higher flood frequencies could lead to increased topsoil organic carbon in wetlands subject to the input of estuarine sediments. Lastly, the integration of remote sensing platforms constitutes an effective tool for revealing spatial heterogeneity of carbon storage in coastal wetlands.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109329
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

This study was supported by the Estonian Research Council (EAG204)


  • Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles
  • Seasonal flooding
  • Coastal wetlands
  • Carbon
  • Radar
  • Multispectral


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