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Accuracy of Terrain Heights from Spaceborne Laser Altimetry in Brunei's Tropical Peatlands
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  • Alex Cobb,
  • Bodo Bookhagen,
  • Charles F. Harvey,
  • Faizah Metali,
  • Rahayu Sukmaria Sukri,
  • René Dommain
Alex Cobb
Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART)

Corresponding Author:alex.cobb@smart.mit.edu

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Bodo Bookhagen
University of Potsdam
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Charles F. Harvey
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Faizah Metali
Universiti Brunei Darussalam
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Rahayu Sukmaria Sukri
Universiti Brunei Darussalam
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René Dommain
Smithsonian Institution
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Tropical peatlands are estimated to hold carbon stocks of 70 Pg C or more as partly-decomposed organic matter, or peat. Peat may accumulate over thousands of years into gently mounded deposits called peat domes with a relief of several meters over distances of kilometers. The curved shape of peat domes accounts for much of the carbon storage in these landscapes, but their subtle topographic signal is difficult to measure. As many of the world’s tropical peatlands are remote and inaccessible, spaceborne laser altimetry data from missions such as NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) and the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) instrument on the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) observatory could help to describe these deposits. However, for better and for worse, tropical peatlands may also support forests with high above-ground biomass—averages of over 200 Mg C / ha have been reported—which increases their carbon stocks but further complicates determination of their surface topography using laser altimetry. In this work, we evaluate retrieval of ground elevations and canopy metrics derived from GEDI waveform data, as well as single-photon data from ATLAS, with reference to an airborne laser scanning dataset covering an area of over 100 km^2 in the Belait District of Brunei Darussalam. We find that despite infrequent ground retrievals, with regularization these spaceborne platforms can provide useful data for tropical peatland surface altimetry.