Mapping UK Habitats

A soil carbon and land use database for the United Kingdom.
[Bradley et al 2005]


The above paper describes the compilation of a database to estimate soil carbon stocks and carbon dioxide emissions from UK soils by interpolating the analysis of 11,000 soil horizons and site data with legacy soil maps at 1:250,000 scale  in order to

derive high-resolution spatial data on soils and land-use data for use by a dynamic simulation model of carbon fluxes from soils resulting from land-use changes”.


Since the creation of the database the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus missions have measured, mapped and observed the Earth’s surface at 10, 20 and 60m resolutions. A vast library of images is now freely available, one that could be used to improve and update the habitat component of the soil carbon and land use database above. Furthermore having used an extended spectrum the data not only provides imagery in the visible spectrum but also in the infrared and microwave to provide data on the thermal, hydrological and gaseous properties of the Earth’s surface. It’s a library that could significantly enhance and updated the soil carbon and land use database to the extent that it extends its use beyond CO2 simulation models.

The Crowd

AfSISIn Africa the African Soil Information Services (AfSIS) has been taking advantage of this imagery to develop land use maps. It’s a first for Africa which doesn’t have the underlying soil maps to build upon and similarly has over 30 million km2. Working at a resolution of 250m2 AfSIS are using a simple yes/no question analysis to utilize the power of the crowd to map Africa’s land cover. Questions, that as with Bradley, set out to identified the basic land uses in Africa: Cultivated, Grassland, Woodland and Built. Categories that correspond to Bradley’s categories of Cultivated-Arable, Woodland, and Semi-natural.

It’s worth noting that as the UK has only 240,000km2, (under 2 million images at a resolution 250m2), it would take two thousand volunteers less than a month to completely revise and improve the resolution,by a factor of eight, and accuracy of the land cover aspect of the soil carbon and land use database. As the Copernicus missions are ongoing so could be this revision process so that the actual land cover is always accurately reflected in the database.

Farm/Field derived Data

Approximately 70% of the UK’s land is agricultural with half under cultivation.

data sources for mapping uk habitatsIn many cases these cultivated lands are utilized in precision farmer operations where soil properties have been measured and mapped at a resolution of 1ha or less. With as much as 1/3rd of the UK’s soils properties mapped at field scale, and the legacy soil maps used by Bradley at a resolution of 1km, these field measurements represent a great opportunity to enhance the soils data in the soil carbon and land use database.

The British Geological Society (BGS) have similarly produced a mysoil app which allows the general public to asses their soil and add data to the BGS database. Unfortunately there is no GNU/Linux version of this app and my request for more information has not yet been replied to so I can only assume that this app could also help to improve the soil carbon and land use database.

Citizen Science

The advent of the internet has bought about the opportunity for mass data exercises that were previously impossible for a small team of researchers to analysis extensive. Thus studies relied on supporting datasets by using statistical techniques designed to squeeze out the biggest truth from the least amount of effort. With the internet there is no need to use these support methods to the same extent and instead the statistics can be applied to qualify the integrity of the data and illuminate its implications. (link: The BGS Citizen Science home page)


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One Response to Mapping UK Habitats

  1. Pingback: Cant See the Woods for the Trees - persephone habitat and soil management

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