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Research interests:

Peatlands, GIS, geomorphology, data science

Career history:

Graduated for a BSc and MSc in Earth Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, followed by a teaching position at the same university. During my time in Amsterdam, I was responsible for a few GIS projects and data management/fieldwork projects at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics. As a teacher, I was based at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Active research projects:

Assessing the condition of the Flow Country peatlands to support their future protection

The Flow Country forms the largest continuous expanse of blanket bog in the world, and is currently the only natural site under review for World Heritage Status (WHS) in the UK. A key element of the evaluation will be the evidence demonstrating that the peatlands of the Flow Country, found across a number of Highland Estates, are in sufficiently good condition to support their essential functions now and in the future.

The Flow Country peatlands are without doubt the most intact peatlands in Britain, but still bear the imprint of thousands of years of human disturbance. Peatlands have been drained for agriculture, burned for fuel and planted with trees for timber. In the last twenty years peatlands have begun to be valued for their role in cooling climate and for their unique biodiversity. Millions of pounds have been invested in restoring peatlands by blocking ditches to re-wet their drained surfaces and encouraging the natural return of bog vegetation. The Flow Country peatlands today are a patchwork of areas which have been degraded to a greater and lesser extent and restored to a greater and lesser extent.

World Heritage Status offers the potential for a dramatic change in the economy of northern Scotland with a large boost in tourism and a renewed focus on conserving this unique landscape. However the WHS application process requires robust data on the condition of the peatlands and their sustainability, which is currently lacking. The primary reason for this lack of data is the huge size of the area, more than fifteen times that of the next largest British WHS.

In this project we partner with the RSPB and Highland Estates to develop an approach to monitoring peatland condition using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and linking imagery and ecosystem functions (C sequestration, nutrient cycling, hydrology, etc.). Through a series of field campaigns we will develop and test the approach and assess how this data can support the WHS proposal.

Recent publications:

Smit, A., Dorren, L., Van Noord, H., Veraart, J., Cusell, C., & Sterk, H. P. (2018). Twenty-Five Years of Life Lessons. In The Luxembourg Gutland Landscape (pp. 269-276). Springer, Cham.