Direct multispectral photogrammetry for UAV-based snow depth measurements
Abstract: Due to the changing climate and inherent atypically occurring meteorological events in the Arctic regions, more accurate snow quality predictions are needed in order to support the Sámi reindeer herding communities in northern Sweden that struggle to adapt to the rapidly changing Arctic climate. Spatial snow depth distribution is a crucial parameter not only to assess snow quality but also for multiple environmental research and social land use purposes. This contrasts with the current availability of affordable and efficient snow monitoring methods to estimate such an extremely variable parameter in both space and time. In this thesis, a novel approach to determine spatial snow depth distribution in challenging alpine terrain is presented and tested during a field campaign performed in Tarfala, Sweden in April 2019. A multispectral camera capturing five spectral bands in wavelengths between 470 and 860 nanometers on board of a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is deployed to derive 3D snow surface models via photogrammetric image processing techniques. The main advantage over conventional photogrammetric surveys is the utilization of accurate RTK positioning technology that enables direct georeferencing of the images, and thus eliminates the need for ground control points and dangerous and time-consuming fieldwork. The continuous snow depth distribution is retrieved by differencing two digital surface models corresponding to the snow-free and snow-covered study areas. An extensive error assessment based on ground measurements is performed including an analysis of the impact of multispectral imagery. Uncertainties and non-transparencies due to a black-box environment in the photogrammetric processing are, however, present, but accounted for during the error source analysis. The results of this project demonstrate that the proposed methodology is capable of producing high-resolution 3D snow-covered surface models (< 7 cm/pixel) of alpine areas up to 8 hectares in a fast, reliable and cost-efficient way. The overall RMSE of the snow depth estimates is 7.5 cm for data acquired in ideal survey conditions. The proposed method furthermore assists in closing the scale gap between discrete point measurements and regional-scale remote sensing, and in complementing large-scale remote sensing data by providing an adequate validation source. As part of the Swedish cooperation project ’Snow4all’, the findings of this project are used to support and validate large-scale snow models for improved snow quality prediction in northern Sweden.
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