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Drones and digital photogrammetry: from classifications to continuums for monitoring river habitat and hydromorphology

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Recently, we have gained the opportunity to obtain very high‐resolution imagery and topographic data of rivers using drones and novel digital photogrammetric processing techniques. The high‐resolution outputs from this method are unprecedented, and provide the opportunity to move beyond river habitat classification systems, and work directly with spatially explicit continuums of data. Traditionally, classification systems have formed the backbone of physical river habitat monitoring for their ease of use, rapidity, cost efficiency, and direct comparability. Yet such classifications fail to characterize the detailed heterogeneity of habitat, especially those features which are small or marginal. Drones and digital photogrammetry now provide an alternative approach for monitoring river habitat and hydromorphology, which we review here using two case studies. First, we demonstrate the classification of river habitat using drone imagery acquired in 2012 of a 120 m section of the San Pedro River in Chile, which was at the technological limits of what could be achieved at that time. Second, we review how continuums of data can be acquired, using drone imagery acquired in 2016 from the River Teme in Herefordshire, England. We investigate the precision and accuracy of these data continuums, highlight key current challenges, and review current best practices of data collection, processing, and management. We encourage further quantitative testing and field applications. If current difficulties can be overcome, these continuums of geomorphic and hydraulic information hold great potential for providing new opportunities for understanding river systems to the benefit of both river science and management. WIREs Water 2017, 4:e1222. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1222 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems Water and Life > Methods
Hierarchical organization of a stream system and its habitat subsystems .Approximate linear scale, appropriate to second‐ or third‐order mountain stream, is indicated. Environmental Management, Vol. 10, 1986, p. 199‐214, Frissell et al., ((c) Springer‐Verlag New York Inc.) With permission of Springer.
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Observed versus predicted elevation data for (a) exposed and (b) submerged parts of the River Teme field site.
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River Teme orthophoto (a and c) and digital elevation model (DEM) (b and d) generated using drone imagery processed using structure‐from‐motion (SfM)‐photogrammetry. Flow is from the left to right side of the image in (a) and (b) and from bottom to top in (c) and (d). The validation points shown in (a) and (c) denote the location of survey points collected with a total station and subsequently used to assess quantitatively the accuracy and precision of the drone‐SfM derived DEM.
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Geomorphological mapping of the Piedra Blanca site on the San Pedro River, Chile.
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Orthophoto of the Piedra Blanca site on the San Pedro River, Chile, obtained using the drone‐structure‐from‐motion (SfM) method.
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