Microtopographic variability in peatlands has a strong influence on greenhouse gas fluxes, but we lack the ability to characterize terrain in these environments efficiently over large areas. To address this, we assessed the capacity of photogrammetric data acquired from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) to reproduce ground elevations measured in the field. In particular, we set out to evaluate the role of (i) vegetation/surface complexity and (ii) supplementary LiDAR data on results. We compared remote-sensing observations to reference measurements acquired with survey grade GPS equipment at 678 sample points, distributed across a 61-hectare treed bog in northwestern Alberta, Canada. UAV photogrammetric data were found to capture elevation with accuracies, by root mean squares error, ranging from 14–42 cm, depending on the state of vegetation/surface complexity. We judge the technology to perform well under all but the most-complex conditions, where ground visibility is hindered by thick vegetation. Supplementary LiDAR data did not improve results significantly, nor did it perform well as a stand-alone technology at the low densities typically available to researchers.
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