Characterizing vegetation complexity with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) – A framework and synthesis

Ecosystem complexity is among the important drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and unmanned aerial systems (UASs) are becoming an important tool for characterizing vegetation patterns and processes. The variety of UASs applications is immense, and so are the procedures to process UASs data described in the literature. Optimizing the workflow is still a matter of discussion. Here, we present a comprehensive synthesis aiming to identify common rules that shape workflows applied in UAS-based studies facing complexity in ecosystems. Analysing the studies, we found similarities irrespective of the ecosystem, according to the character of the property addressed, such as species composition (biodiversity), ecosystem structure (stand volume/complexity), plant status (phenology and stress levels), and dynamics (disturbances and regeneration). We propose a general framework allowing to design UAS-based vegetation surveys according to its purpose and the component of ecosystem complexity addressed. We support the framework by detailed schemes as well as examples of best practices of UAS studies covering each of the vegetation properties (i.e. composition, structure, status and dynamics) and related applications. For an efficient UAS survey, the following points are crucial: knowledge of the phenomenon, choice of platform, sensor, resolution (temporal, spatial and spectral), model and classification algorithm according to the phenomenon, as well as careful interpretation of the results. The simpler the procedure, the more robust, repeatable, applicable and cost effective it is. Therefore, the proper design can minimize the efforts while maximizing the quality of the results.

How to cite: Müllerová J. , X. Gago, M. Bučas,J. Company, J. Estrany, J. Fortesa, S. Manfreda, A. Michez, M. Mokroš, G. Paulus, E. Tiškus, M. A. Tsiafouli, R. Kent, Characterizing vegetation complexity with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) – A framework and synthesis, Ecological Indicators, Volume 131, November 2021, 108156. [pdf]

Mapping Water Infiltration Rate Using Ground and UAV Hyperspectral Data: A Case Study of Alento, Italy

Water infiltration rate (WIR) into the soil profile was investigated through a comprehensive study harnessing spectral information of the soil surface. As soil spectroscopy provides invaluable information on soil attributes, and as WIR is a soil surface-dependent property, field spectroscopy may model WIR better than traditional laboratory spectral measurements. This is because sampling for the latter disrupts the soil-surface status. A field soil spectral library (FSSL), consisting of 114 samples with different textures from six different sites over the Mediterranean basin, combined with traditional laboratory spectral measurements, was created. Next, partial least squares regression analysis was conducted on the spectral and WIR data in different soil texture groups, showing better performance of the field spectral observations compared to traditional laboratory spectroscopy. Moreover, several quantitative spectral properties were lost due to the sampling procedure, and separating the samples according to texture gave higher accuracies. Although the visible near-infrared–shortwave infrared (VNIR–SWIR) spectral region provided better accuracy, we resampled the spectral data to the resolution of a Cubert hyperspectral sensor (VNIR). This hyperspectral sensor was then assembled on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to apply one selected spectral-based model to the UAV data and map the WIR in a semi-vegetated area within the Alento catchment, Italy. Comprehensive spectral and WIR ground-truth measurements were carried out simultaneously with the UAV–Cubert sensor flight. The results were satisfactorily validated on the ground using field samples, followed by a spatial uncertainty analysis, concluding that the UAV with hyperspectral remote sensing can be used to map soil surface-related soil properties.

How to cite: Francos, N.; Romano, N.; Nasta, P.; Zeng, Y.; Szabó, B.; Manfreda, S.; Ciraolo, G.; Mészáros, J.; Zhuang, R.; Su, B.; Ben-Dor, E.  Mapping Water Infiltration Rate Using Ground and UAV Hyperspectral Data: a Case Study of AlentoItalyRemote Sensing13, 2606, (doi: 10.3390/rs13132606) 2021. [pdf]

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
2. Identifying the optimal spatial distribution of tracers
3. A geostatistical approach to map near-surface soil moisture
4. Refining image-velocimetry performances for streamflow monitoring
5. Metrics for the quantification of seeding characteristics
6. Harmonisation of image velocimetry techniques for river surface velocity observations
7. An integrative information aqueduct to close the gaps in water observations
8. Practical guidance for UAS-based environmental mapping
9. Long-term soil moisture observations over Tibetan Plateau
10. Image velocimetry techniques under low flow conditions

#hydrology #environmentalmonitoring #remotesensing #UAS #rivermonitoring

Seeding metrics for error minimisation

River streamflow monitoring is currently facing a transformation due to the emerging of new innovative technologies. Fixed and mobile measuring systems are capable of quantifying surface flow velocities and discharges, relying on video acquisitions. This camera-gauging framework is sensitive to what the camera can “observe” but also to field circumstances such as challenging weather conditions, river background transparency, transiting seeding characteristics, among others. This short communication paper introduces the novel idea of optimising image velocimetry techniques selecting the most informative sequence of frames within the available video. The selection of the optimal frame window is based on two reasonable criteria: i) the maximisation of the number of frames, subject to ii) the minimisation of the recently introduced dimensionless seeding distribution index (SDI). SDI combines seeding characteristics such as seeding density and spatial clustering of tracers, which are used as a proxy to enhance the reliability of image velocimetry techniques. Two field case studies were considered as a proof-of-concept of the proposed framework, on which seeding metrics were estimated and averaged in time to select the proper application window. The selected frames were analysed using LSPIV to estimate the surface flow velocities and river discharge. Results highlighted that the proposed framework might lead to a significant error reduction. In particular, the computed discharge errors, at the optimal portion of the footage, were about 0.40% and 0.12% for each case study, respectively. These values were lower than those obtained, considering all frames available.

How to cite: Pizarro, A., S. F. Dal Sasso, S. Manfreda, Refining image‐velocimetry performances for streamflow monitoring: Seeding metrics to errors minimisation, Hydrological Processes, (doi: 10.1002/hyp.13919 ), 2020.

A Geostatistical Approach to Map Near-Surface Soil Moisture Through Hyperspatial Resolution Thermal Inertia

Thermal inertia has been applied to map soil water content exploiting remote sensing data in the short and long wave regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Over the last years, optical and thermal cameras were sufficiently miniaturized to be loaded onboard of unmanned aerial systems (UASs), which provide unprecedented potentials to derive hyperspatial resolution thermal inertia for soil water content mapping. In this study, we apply a simplification of thermal inertia, the apparent thermal inertia (ATI), over pixels where underlying thermal inertia hypotheses are fulfilled (unshaded bare soil). Then, a kriging algorithm is used to spatialize the ATI to get a soil water content map. The proposed method was applied to an experimental area of the Alento River catchment, in southern Italy. Daytime radiometric optical multispectral and day and nighttime radiometric thermal images were acquired via a UAS, while in situ soil water content was measured through the thermo-gravimetric and time domain reflectometry (TDR) methods. The determination coefficient between ATI and soil water content measured over unshaded bare soil was 0.67 for the gravimetric method and 0.73 for the TDR. After interpolation, the correlation slightly decreased due to the introduction of measurements on vegetated or shadowed positions (r² = 0.59 for gravimetric method; r² = 0.65 for TDR). The proposed method shows promising results to map the soil water content even over vegetated or shadowed areas by exploiting hyperspatial resolution data and geostatistical analysis.

How to cite: Paruta, A., P. Nasta, G. Ciraolo, F. Capodici, S. Manfreda, N. Romano, E. Bendor, Y. Zeng, A. Maltese, S. F. Dal Sasso and R. Zhuang, A geostatistical approach to map near-surface soil moisture through hyper-spatial resolution thermal inertia, IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, (doi: 10.1109/TGRS.2020.3019200) 2020. [pdf]

Modeling Antecedent Soil Moisture to Constrain Rainfall Thresholds for Shallow Landslides Occurrence

Rainfall-triggered shallow landslide events have caused losses of human lives and millions of euros in damage to property in all parts of the world. The need to prevent such hazards combined with the difficulty of describing the geomorphological processes over regional scales led to the adoption of empirical rainfall thresholds derived from records of rainfall events triggering landslides. These rainfall intensity thresholds are generally computed, assuming that all events are not influenced by antecedent soil moisture conditions. Nevertheless, it is expected that antecedent soil moisture conditions may provide critical support for the correct definition of the triggering conditions. Therefore, we explored the role of antecedent soil moisture on critical rainfall intensity-duration thresholds to evaluate the possibility of modifying or improving traditional approaches. The study was carried out using 326 landslide events that occurred in the last 18 years in the Basilicata region (southern Italy). Besides the ordinary data (i.e., rainstorm intensity and duration), we also derived the antecedent soil moisture conditions using a parsimonious hydrological model. These data have been used to derive the rainfall intensity thresholds conditional on the antecedent saturation of soil quantifying the impact of such parameters on rainfall thresholds.

Geographical distribution of the weather stations and landslide events for the study area. The graph in the inset shows the monthly distribution of landslides in Basilicata from 2001 to 2018.

How to cite: Lazzari, M., M. Piccarreta, R. L. Ray and S. Manfreda, Modelling antecedent soil moisture to constrain rainfall thresholds for shallow landslides occurrence, Landslides edited by Dr. Ram Ray, IntechOpen, pp. 1-331, (10.5772/intechopen.92730) 2020. [Link]

Towards harmonisation of image velocimetry techniques for river surface velocity observations

Since the turn of the 21st century, image-based velocimetry techniques have become an increasingly popular approach for determining open-channel flow in a range of hydrological settings across Europe and beyond. Simultaneously, a range of large-scale image velocimetry algorithms have been developed that are equipped with differing image pre-processing and analytical capabilities. Yet in operational hydrometry, these techniques are utilised by few competent authorities. Therefore, imagery collected for image velocimetry analysis (along with reference data) is required both to enable inter-comparisons between these differing approaches and to test their overall efficacy. Through benchmarking exercises, it will be possible to assess which approaches are best suited for a range of fluvial settings, and to focus future software developments. Here we collate and describe datasets acquired from seven countries across Europe and North America, consisting of videos that have been subjected to a range of pre-processing and image velocimetry analyses (Perks et al.2020 Reference data are available for 12 of the 13 case studies presented, enabling these data to be used for reference and accuracy assessment.

How to cite: Perks, M. T., Dal Sasso, S. F., Hauet, A., Jamieson, E., Le Coz, J., Pearce, S., Peña-Haro, S., Pizarro, A., Strelnikova, D., Tauro, F., Bomhof, J., Grimaldi, S., Goulet, A., Hortobágyi, B., Jodeau, M., Käfer, S., Ljubičić, R., Maddock, I., Mayr, P., Paulus, G., Pénard, L., Sinclair, L., and Manfreda, S.: Towards harmonisation of image velocimetry techniques for river surface velocity observations, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 12, 1545–1559,, 2020. [pdf]

Spatial distribution of tracers for optical sensing of stream surface flow

River monitoring is of particular interest for our society that is facing increasing complexity in water management. Emerging technologies have contributed to opening new avenues for improving our monitoring capabilities, but also generating new challenges for the harmonised use of devices and algorithms. In this context, optical sensing techniques for stream surface flow velocities are strongly influenced by tracer characteristics such as seeding density and level of aggregation. Therefore, a requirement is the identification of how these properties affect the accuracy of such methods. To this aim, numerical simulations were performed to consider different levels of particle aggregation, particle colour (in terms of greyscale intensity), seeding density, and background noise. Two widely used image-velocimetry algorithms were adopted: i) Particle Tracking Velocimetry (PTV), and ii) Large-Scale Particle Image Velocimetry (LSPIV). A descriptor of the seeding characteristics (based on density and aggregation) was introduced based on a newly developed metric π. This value can be approximated and used in practice as π = ν0.1 / (ρ / ρ1) where νρ, and ρcν1 are the aggregation level, the seeding density, and the converging seeding density at ν = 1, respectively. A reduction of image-velocimetry errors was systematically observed by decreasing the values of π; and therefore, the optimal frame window was defined as the one that minimises π. In addition to numerical analyses, the Basento field case study (located in southern Italy) was considered as a proof-of-concept of the proposed framework. Field results corroborated numerical findings, and an error reduction of about 15.9 and 16.1 % was calculated – using PTV and PIV, respectively – by employing the optimal frame window.

Numerical simulation of clustered tracers.

How to cite: Pizarro, A., Dal Sasso, S. F., Perks, M., and Manfreda, S.: Spatial distribution of tracers for optical sensing of stream surface flow, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss.,, in review, 2020. [pdf]