Mediterranean PhD School

Research and innovation driving transformative change.

Becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050, Europe needs to modernize the approach to engineering design, to ensure an inclusive ecological transition.

Research and innovation will play a central role in accelerating and navigating the necessary transition to a climate-neutral engineering.

This Phd School aims to spread among young researchers the green transition in the field of civil, architectural and environmental engineering.

DICEA School series

This is the second event of a series of PhD Schools that our Department, DICEA, will organize annually in the framework of the Department of Excellence, project funded by the Italian Ministry of University and Research.

PhD Students in any field are invited to participate free of charge. Awards are available reserved to PhD students in the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering area.

Topic of the school

The PhD school will include a plenary session (yellow), which will focus on Ecological Transition and four parallel thematic sessions (red) on Hydraulic, Transportation, Architectural and Geotechnical Engineering. An important effort will be devoted to applications (blue)

UAS-based Environmental Monitoring: Improving data collection through a standardised workflow

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) play an increasingly important role in collecting data for environmental monitoring. The primary challenges for UAS in environmental studies include creating consistent, standardised guidelines for data collection and establishing practices that apply to a range of environments. Dr Salvatore Manfreda from the University of Naples Federico II, along with the HARMONIOUS team, identified critical steps in planning, acquiring, and processing UAS data to ensure best practices and a streamlined, effective workflow.

As drone technology has improved over the last decade, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have become a fundamental part of environmental monitoring, bridging the gap between traditional field studies and satellite remote sensing. UAS is an inexpensive way of acquiring visual data on a large temporal scale across the electromagnetic spectrum, making it an invaluable technology for monitoring dynamic environmental processes.

UAS can provide real-time aerial photography or video to map and monitor natural and artificial ecosystems, giving a unique insight into the environment. The versatility, adaptability, and flexibility of UAS make them an essential tool for environmental studies such as forestry planning, tracking glacier geomorphology and precision agriculture, to name but a few applications.

UAS can provide visual data across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The continual improvements in UAS and sensor technologies, coupled with the variety of environmental settings in which they are deployed, have led to a diversity of methodologies in how data is collected, analysed, and processed. The inconsistencies in the UAS study designs have triggered multiple issues regarding the quality of the final imagery and data collected and have led to overblown budgets. These issues highlighted the necessity for a standardised protocol in UAS environmental mapping and monitoring to be developed.

 There are clear economic, temporal and qualitative benefits in using UAS over satellites or manned aircraft. 

Dr Manfreda from the University of Naples Federico II, with the international team of researchers of the HARMONIOUS COST Action, explored the primary issues in utilising UAS in environmental studies and produced guidance to improve planning, acquisition, and processing of data and the quality and reproducibility of research. They created a generalised workflow methodology with five interconnected steps:

  1. study design;
  2. pre-flight fieldwork;
  3. flight mission;
  4. processing of aerial data;
  5. quality assurance.

UAS limitations
There are clear economic, temporal, and qualitative benefits in using UAS over satellites or manned aircraft, which are limited by their cost and how often a survey can use them. However, as UAS is still an immature technology, limitations exist in how data is collected and analysed.

Irit/Shutterstock.com

Previous studies have indicated that many UAS surveys fail to consider the planning and processing of UAS imagery. When the speed and height of the UAS and the calibration of the sensors are not considered in the planning stage, and the weather is not accounted for on the day of the flight, the UAS imagery will be blurred or of incorrect resolution.

These limitations could be mitigated through a structure of standardisation which can work as a checklist for UAS surveys to ensure accurate collection and analysis of data.

Standardising UAS data collection
Although every UAS survey will be slightly different owing to the wide variety of vegetation, topography, climate, and local legislation in study environments, a standardised workflow, which accounts for every stage of the survey and applies to every environment, will be incredibly beneficial in assuring appropriate planning for high-quality results.

Workflow: Each mission requires a bespoke study design. Then, a pre-flight study takes place before the flight mission. The final stage describes how to best process the imagery and data from the flight.

Through creating a generalised workflow in five interrelated steps, HARMONIOUS’s research aims to improve the final quality of data and analysis. The workflow was designed based on harmonising multiple methods collated from recent research and reviews of different UAS surveys.

Workflow design
Every UAS study can vary greatly and therefore requires a bespoke study design to set out a detailed mission plan for the study area. Consequently, the initial step in the workflow process is to design the study; this step is essential to set up the parameters of the survey and consider the specifics of the environment and the research question as this will shape where, how, and when the flight can take place and what sensors will be used.

When all factors are considered, the study design can be an incredibly complex problem. The final quality of the model is dependent on all of these interconnected factors being correctly accounted for.

In general, mission plans for environmental studies focus on four primary elements:

  1. UAS regulations and legislation;
  2. platform and sensor choice;
  3. camera settings and UAS control software;
  4. target geo-referencing.
There are clear economic, temporal, and qualitative benefits in using UAS over satellites. However, UAS is still an immature technology and limitations exist in how data is collected and analysed.

Local UAS regulations and legislation will have to be understood first to ensure the mission will get permission to fly in the study area. The platform, sensor, camera settings, and UAS control software choices are purely dependent on the survey’s requirements and limitations – concerning budget and time limitations, or the image quality, spectral and spatial resolution, and the survey area’s size. Finally, in the study design, target geo-referencing must be conducted to ensure the imagery is taken correctly. The best way to do this is to find ground control points (GCP) for reference.

Once the study design is complete, the next step in the workflow is to conduct a pre-flight study. This section of the workflow entails reconnaissance and a terrestrial survey of the survey area. The area’s reconnaissance will reveal take-off and landing points, any possible visual or flight obstructions, and any GCP’s for the flight to be geo-referenced. The field study will be highly dependent on the environmental medium being studied but will supplement and influence any data collected from the UAS study.

 The researchers have created a harmonised workflow that will be an essential element of any UAS survey in the future. 

Following the pre-flight, the workflow explains how to safely and most effectively conduct the flight itself. The challenge at this stage is to account for the weather accurately. Wind speed, humidity, light levels, and fog can affect data quality, so it must be compensated for before the flight takes place.

The final stage in the workflow describes how to best process the imagery and data from the flight. When processing, it is essential for the surveyors to account for the distortions, often in UAS imagery. These can misrepresent the radiometrics and geometrics of the study object. However, a series of steps quantify the radiometric or geometric problems, for which there is a corrective method.

Orthomosaic obtained by UAS imagery, which highlights the potential to provide high level of details of natural ecosystems.

A critical aspect of HARMONIOUS’s method is that quality assurance must be evaluated at every step to guarantee a quality survey outcome. One such way alluded to, which can save time and money and ensure quality images, uses a portable resolution test chart. These charts, when used correctly, can give assurances that cameras are calibrated correctly before the flight takes place.

A new standard practice
Recent advances in UAS have meant that low-cost and near real-time data collection has become possible in an array of environmental studies. With their essential work, Dr Manfreda and his fellow researchers have created a harmonised workflow and accompanying checklists that will be a vital element of any UAS survey in the future, furthering the efficacy of UAS and making them a more valuable tool in studying the environment.

The researchers have designed the workflow to reduce error in data collection and processing and ensure flights are conducted within budget, safely, and effectively. This research will undoubtedly improve future UAS studies and be a template by which all reviews can be guided, streamlining the study process and making results easily reproducible.

HARMONIOUS’s research assists in furthering UAS procedures and ensuring that UAS studies in the future will have more accurate results if they utilise the workflow checklists referenced in this article.

Personal Response

As new iterations of UAS technologies are developed, could the workflow process become more automated?

We are now focusing on the preparation of a book edited by Elsevier providing more detailed guidelines for UAS applications in environmental monitoring.

Special Issue on RS entitled Global Gridded Soil Information Based on Machine Learning

This Special Issue is dedicated to machine learning-based methods in:•proximal and digital global mapping of soil properties (e.g., basic, hydraulic, thermal, functional, ecosystem services);•computing systems/algorithms/approaches using Earth observation data to derive global gridded soil datasets;•preprocessing Earth observation data to feed into global soil mapping;•data-intensive computing methods for incorporating Earth observation data for predictive soil mapping;•optimizing temporal resolution to globally track the changes of soil properties;•uncertainty assessment of the derived gridded soil information;•other related topics.

A 40% discount can be granted to papers received from this conference/project on the basis that the manuscript is accepted for publication following the peer review process.

Website

Interview on SpeCtrum

Can you tell us how you started working on using UASs for environmental monitoring? What was your motivation, and what did you find the most interesting in this research field? What are the knowledge gaps and major challenges in this research field?

I have always been interested in spatial patterns of natural ecosystems. Nature is able to create an incredible diversity of elements that have been inspiring for all of us. The driving processes that produce such patterns are open questions stimulating many of my studies. In this context, UAS offers the opportunity to explore such patterns at a level of detail that was unimaginable a few years ago. Therefore, I envisaged the possibility to use this tool to tackle my research questions in the field of hydrological and ecohydrological science.

Can you share with us any current specific project, activity, or initiative that you are particularly excited about?

I’m particularly proud to be the Chair of the COST Action “Harmonization of UAS techniques for agricultural and natural ecosystems monitoring – HARMONIOUS”, which includes more than 100 scientists from 36 countries. The HARMONIOUS Action is one of the biggest Actions funded by COST Organization (https://www.cost.eu) focusing on the development of guidelines for the use of UAS applied for hydrological monitoring. Members of the HARMONIOUS Action are now focusing on the preparation of a book edited by Elsevier providing more detailed guidelines for UAS applications in hydrology, which will be one of the main deliverables of the project.

More details about the project activities can be found on the web-page

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled over the next ten years?

UAS offers the opportunity of acquiring high-resolution data for monitoring environmental processes, bridging the gap between traditional field studies and satellite remote sensing [An important paper in this context is https://doi.org/10.3390/rs10040641]. Their versatility, adaptability, and flexibility may allow the implementation of new strategies to support the validation of satellite products, which are systematically adopted in a series of operational weather and hydrological models. This may help to develop an integrated global monitoring system of higher accuracy and precision.

Can you share with us your perspectives and experiences on how UAS remote sensing has changed the way the world addresses environmental monitoring and conservation agendas? What do you think is the role of remote sensing and geospatial information science in achieving a sustainable environment?

With the evolution of drone technologies over the last decade, UAS became an inexpensive way of mapping environmental processes for forestry planning, tracking landslides, river monitoring and precision agriculture. Environmental agencies and civil protection are increasingly adopting UAS- photogrammetry, but there are an enormous number of additional information that may be retrieved by UAS (e.g., stream flow, morphological evolution, soil moisture, state of vegetation, among others). It is our responsibility to simplify the use of UASs and make their products accessible to anyone.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face (or have you faced) as a scientist in your field? Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

It is common to underestimate the complexity associated with the use of these tools. UAS requires a large number of competencies and knowledge that should be implemented in clear protocols in order to transform the huge amount of data acquired to useful information. Therefore, one challenge is represented by the standardization of procedures adopted for UAS surveys in different operating configurations and environmental conditions. In this context, the members of the HARMONIOUS COST Action have published some preliminary studies to support this process [see the manuscript].

Finally, what are you most passionate about? What is your advice to students and young professionals who are pursuing research on UAS remote sensing and environmental protection, and nature conservation? Which areas in this research field remain understudied and should be considered for future research?

I believe that UAS remote sensing will evolve in the coming years, offering new monitoring opportunities. One of the main limitations that we are encountering right now in the description of hydrological processes is represented by the limited extent of UAS imagery. There is a pressing need to extend the limits of surveyed areas in order to have intercomparison between UAS and satellite data. This may help to define downscaling procedures for the estimation of environmental variables at high resolution and over large scales. This will be possible with the use of long range UAS or with swarms of drones which will be fundamental for future advances in remote sensing.

Happy Easter

I would like to wish you all a Happy Easter of Resurrection.

After this long period of difficulties, I hope that this will really be a reborn for a new COVID free life.

HARMONIOUS deliverables of 2020

This year, COST Action – HARMONIOUS members produced a quite impressive number of results working online. Imagine what we could do without restrictions!
See the following list:
1. Use of UAVs with the simplified “triangle” technique https://lnkd.in/dFQftqY
2. Identifying the optimal spatial distribution of tracers https://lnkd.in/dyEcmzq
3. A geostatistical approach to map near-surface soil moisture https://lnkd.in/dymZzHB
4. Refining image-velocimetry performances for streamflow monitoring https://lnkd.in/dyQzvyc
5. Metrics for the quantification of seeding characteristics https://lnkd.in/gvMBe4c
6. Harmonisation of image velocimetry techniques for river surface velocity observations https://lnkd.in/d-ygHpY
7. An integrative information aqueduct to close the gaps in water observations https://lnkd.in/dfTHZcG
8. Practical guidance for UAS-based environmental mapping https://lnkd.in/dAAuFmf
9. Long-term soil moisture observations over Tibetan Plateau https://lnkd.in/dguKMCE
10. Image velocimetry techniques under low flow conditions https://lnkd.in/dGRwY9Y


#hydrology #environmentalmonitoring #remotesensing #UAS #rivermonitoring

Call for Papers on Advances in Hydrological Monitoring with UASs

We are promoting a new research topic entitled Advances in Hydrological Monitoring with Unmanned Aerial Systems in Frontiers in Remote Sensing.

FRONTIERS IN REMOTE SENSING

Abstract Submission by March 2021
Manuscript Submission by July 2021

This Research Topic, we would like to promote research which explores the contribution that UASs can provide on hydrological observations, understanding of hydraulic and hydrological processes and development of modelling approaches. More specifically, topics of interests are the following:

• Development of new sensors and Unmanned Aerial System configurations devoted to hydrological monitoring;
• Definition of guidelines of the best-practices to improve the overall quality of the final products promoting a consistent use of UASs in hydrology;
• Development of new algorithms able to exploit high resolution observations;
• Development of new methodologies to fill the gap between satellite observation and field data;
• Coupled application of hydrological models exploiting Unmanned Aerial System observations; and
• Linking the Unmanned Aerial System monitoring of hydrological processes to its novel applications in agricultural management, water resources management, early warning systems etc.

Keywords: UAS, Environmental Monitoring, Hydrology, Rivers, Vegetation.

Appunti di Idrologia Superficiale

Da oggi è disponibile la versione e-book del libro “Appunti di Idrologia Superficiale” pubblicato dalla casa Editrice Aracne.


SINTESI: Il testo offre spunti ed approfondimenti sui processi idrologici superficiali e con particolare riferimento all’interazione acqua-suolo tenendo in considerazione anche le esigenze di carattere tecnico-pratico del lettore. Per tale motivo, oltre a proporre dei contenuti di carattere generale sul tema dell’idrologia superficiale, vengono riportate informazioni utili alla caratterizzazione idrologica in differenti contesti del territorio nazionale.

Disponibile al link: Aracne Editrice