Photo credit  |  Charles Draper

COP26: The rapid prototyping team and peatland monitoring from space

Blog  |  10 November, 2021  |  Reading time: 3 minutes
Between Saturday 6 and Monday 8 November, part of Ordnance Survey’s Propositions and Innovation team had the rare opportunity to attend and share findings at the UN’s 26th Conference of the Parties, also known as COP26.

This conference, which brings together almost 40,000 delegates from over 100 different countries, meets to assess progress and to establish legally binding obligations for dealing with climate change, and has been widely reported by the international media.

The Rapid Prototyping Team, represented by Amy Wright, Harry Gibson, Dan Hirst and myself, were working in the public Green Zone at the Space4Climate Stand together with Briony Turner, Donna Lyndsay, Fred Worrall and other experts, presenting our recent work using satellite data to monitor peat health from space, which was developed in partnership with Space4Climate, Assimila, and the University of Durham. Peat is a critical carbon sink, embodying more carbon than all the rest of the world’s terrestrial biomass combined. Despite this, 80% of the UK’s peatland is in a damaged state, meaning it is releasing carbon into the environment. Mapping the health of peatland and assessing the efficacy of peatland restoration and carbon sequestration projects is therefore critical to meeting the challenges of the climate emergency. It will also be vital for enhancing and tracking commercial strategies to offset carbon emissions using peatland restoration, which is the next step for the project.

The team proved that it is possible to monitor relative peat health from space by assessing albedo (brightness), vegetation index, and temperature. Sharing this work with industry experts along with members of the public as the objective for our working trip. This created opportunity for many serendipitous encounters and exchanges of details. On Monday, we were joined by British astronaut Tim Peake, who led a livestream to schoolchildren answering their questions, and highlighting the importance of satellite data which supplies over 50% of our data on climate change.

During the conference, we also had the chance to attend several talks, including ones on the launch of the new BIOMASS satellite and its impacts on climate change monitoring; on the RSPB’s international partnerships to restore mangrove swamps, saltmarshes, and other critically biodiverse carbon sinks; and on the crucial need for the global north to reduce its CO2 emissions to prevent incalculable suffering in the global south. All impressed on their audiences the need to act quickly and decisively, and the importance of innovating at pace to meet the greatest challenge of our time. In facing off this challenge, Ordnance Survey can make vital contributions and therefore has a critical role to play. I would like to thank the Space4Climate team for allowing us to present these findings at their stand, and for the edifying experiences which came from attending COP26.