Using Drones to Improve Visual Stream Ecological Assessment

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Alexandra D. Evans, Kevin H. Gardner, Scott Greenwood, Bruce Pruitt

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There is a need for affordable, flexible, and efficient evaluation methods for stream restoration, particularly those that take advantage of geospatial and remote sensing technologies. To help satisfy this need, this work explores the use of illustrative small unmanned aerial system (a.k.a. drone) products, made using structure-from-motion photogrammetry, coupled with a visual ecological assessment protocol as a remote evaluation and ecological condition archive approach. Three New England streams were assessed in the field using the Stream Visual Assessment Protocol Version 2 (SVAP2) and later illustrated in drone products (high resolution video, orthomosaics, and 3D models). Ten stream experts participated in a survey to 1) assess the general utility of the drone products, and 2) test whether the experts could visually interpret the drone products and apply the SVAP2 scoring elements remotely. The survey results determined that channel condition, bank condition, riparian area quantity, and canopy cover aspects are feasible to evaluate via remote visual assessment with drone products. Riparian area quality, water appearance, fish habitat complexity, and aquatic invertebrate complexity were also deemed appropriate for remote visual assessment, but with some potential limitations due to varying site conditions and the quality of the drone products. The survey participants generally agreed that the illustrative drone products are useful for stream ecological assessment and restoration evaluation. This remote visual approach is suitable for restoration projects where more general ecological monitoring is adequate, and the workflow can be built upon as new technology becomes readily accessible.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program