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Small Unmanned Airborne System for Image Collection of Canopy Covered Incised Stream

Authors: Michael Edward Hodgson*, University of South Carolina, Silvia Elena Piovan, University of Padova
Topics: UAS / UAV, Geomorphology, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: drone, sUAS, mapping, geomorphology, GIScience, remote sensing
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The wholesale abandonment of cropland, without erosion control, in the first half of the 20th century resulted in numerous erosional landscapes. Incised gulleys carved in recent floodplains or in piedmont landscapes are common. Erosional controls by Federal and local agencies have arrested much of ongoing erosion although episodic large rainfall events cause new erosion. Monitoring the evolution of these incisions is problematic as most are covered by heavy canopy cover. While an airborne LiDAR approach may be near ideal (for canopy penetration possibilities), LiDAR collections are expensive; thus, resulting in county wide LiDAR coverages with surface observations only every meter or so. To monitor at a finer detail requires in situ measurements (e.g. transections with surveying equipment) or possibly small unmanned airborne systems (sUAS). Properly integrated sUAS with LiDAR is expensive. This research on gulley monitoring explored the use of optical cameras on sUAS supported by light field observations (e.g. one half day of effort). Is it possible to reliably and accurately map and monitor changes in gulleys or incised streams with steep walls using airborne drones over modest canopy cover? What is the relative accuracy and confidence? Does the accuracy and confidence vary geospatially? To model accuracy and confidence we conducted four airborne imagery collections (March 2019) over an incised stream (3 m deep) in a floodplain largely created by deposition in the last century. Geometric control and validation points were collected using RTK GNSS and total station measurements.

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