Auchencorth Moss: an atmospheric observatory

Short description:

Auchencorth Moss, part of a sensitive peatland ecosystem in central southern Scotland, is one of our most important monitoring sites. 

Major research issues/sites:

The landscape of Auchencorth Moss was first used in 1994 to study fluxes of methane gas. In 1995 it was established as a measurement site to study fluxes of sulphur dioxide and ammonia gases over a peatland ecosystem due to its suitability for micrometeorological studies and distance from emission sources. The site has since expanded to become Scotland's largest air quality monitoring station and is one of two rural air quality supersites (established in 2006) for the UK under the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Pollution (CLRTAP) European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP). EMEP aims to provide long-term information on the deposition and concentration of atmospheric pollutants, as well as quantifying the significance of long-range transport of air pollutants across country boundaries.

The site provides a platform for many research projects and measurement campaigns, from ammonia flux measurements through to research using unmanned aerial vehicles. UKCEH scientists operate and support state-of-the-art techniques for measuring meteorology, fluxes of reactive gases, particles, greenhouse gases and carbon exchange across the peatland. 

The site is an operational research station and hosts national and international scientists, MSc and PhD students. It also supports innovation by providing a space for testing environmental monitoring technologies. It has dedicated air-conditioning cabins, tall scaffolding, masts and staff available to the research community for short-term experiments and long-term collaborations.  

Short technical description:

The Auchencorth Moss catchment (3.35 km2) forms part of a low-lying, ombrotrophic peatland of about 10 km2. It is located approximately 18km south of Edinburgh in Scotland. The vegetation consists of a patchy mix of grasses and sedges covering a mainly Sphagnum base layer on a typical peatland hummock/hollow microtopography. Common species include Deschampsia flexuosaEriophorum vaginatum and Juncus effusus, with a greater occurrence of shrubs such as Calluna vulgarisErica tetralix and Vaccinium myrtillus in the ungrazed SSSI.
The site drains via the Black Burn, north-east into the North Esk, aided by several overgrown drainage ditches which form a herring-bone pattern across the catchment. The site receives annual precipitation of ~1200mm. Water table depth ranges from below -55cm to 4.5cm above the peat surface, with a mean of approximately -12.5cm. 

Auchencorth Moss routinely reports over 300 chemical and physical properties of the atmosphere, with all data publicly and freely available on the UK-Air (DEFRA), Scottish Air Quality database, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Data Repository for Atmospheric Science and Earth Observation (CEDA) and EBAS ( A full list of measurements can be found here: Outputs include over 115 ISI research papers and many government reports.

Specific features/uniqueness:

Auchencorth Moss is integrating into all UK air monitoring networks, international collaborations and embedded in international research and European Research Infrastructure Consortia (ERICs), including:

  • World Meteorological Organisation - Global Atmospheric Watch (WMO-GAW) regional station, which aims to provide high quality data on the chemical composition of the atmosphere and meteorological parameters, to allow for better understanding of natural and anthropogenic changes over time, and improve the understanding of interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere.
  • ICOS (Integrated Carbon Observation System) ecosystem measurement site, which aims to quantify and improve the understanding of the carbon cycle and greenhouse gas budgets and perturbations.
  • ACTRIS (Aerosol, Clouds and Trace Gases) in-situ site, which aims to produce open access high-quality observations of aerosols, clouds and trace gases to address environmental and societal challenges such as air pollution, sustainability, human and environmental health, and climate change.
  • eLTER (Long-Term Ecosystem Research in Europe), which focuses on long-term trends in environmental and ecological changes.

Options and conditions for visiting scientists:

To discuss opportunities to develop future research and collaborations with UKCEH using the Auchencorth Moss site, contact: Dr Marsailidh Twigg.

centre running the infrastructure:

UKCEH - UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

type of facility:

Observatory / large-scale experimental field site


  • UKCEH - UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • Phone: +44 (0) 1491 692395
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