Environmental Earth Sciences

, 77:632 | Cite as

Monitoring topographic changes through 4D-structure-from-motion photogrammetry: application to a debris-flow channel

  • Sara CucchiaroEmail author
  • Marco Cavalli
  • Damià Vericat
  • Stefano Crema
  • Manel Llena
  • Alberto Beinat
  • Lorenzo Marchi
  • Federico CazorziEmail author
Thematic Issue
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Learning from spatial data: unveiling the geo-environment through quantitative approaches


The study of fast geomorphic changes in mountain channels and hillslopes, driven by intense geomorphic processes, requires frequent and detailed topographic surveys. In the last two decades, high-resolution topography (HRT) has provided new opportunities in the Earth Sciences. These have benefited from important developments in surveying techniques, methods, sensors, and platforms. Between these, the application of structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry has become a widely used method to acquire HRT and high-resolution orthomosaics at multiple temporal and spatial scales. SfM photogrammetry has revolutionized the possibility to collect multi-temporal HRT in rugged or inaccessible environments like that observed in debris-flow catchments. However, appropriate workflows incorporating survey planning, data acquisition, post-processing, and error and uncertainty assessment are required, especially when multi-temporal surveys are compared to study topographic changes through time. In this paper, we present a workflow to acquire and process HRT. The workflow was applied in a debris-flow channel of the Moscardo Torrent (Eastern Italian Alps). Due to the topographic complexity of the study area, the SfM surveys were carried out integrating photos obtained from an unmanned aerial vehicle and from the ground. This integration guarantees high data density and avoids shadows. Eight photogrammetric surveys were collected between December 2015 and August 2017. In this time interval, five debris flows occurred. The surveying and data processing procedure described in the workflow permitted to summarize and integrate all the analysis steps and helped to identify and minimize potential sources of error in the multi-temporal SfM data (what we consider here 4D). Our case study demonstrates how the developed workflow presented here allows studying the geomorphic effects of debris flows and check dams functionality in mountain environments.


Multi-temporal surveys High-resolution topography Structure-from-motion (SfM) Steep mountain catchments Digital elevation model (DEM) DEM of difference (DoD) Debris-flow channel 



The authors acknowledge the support of the Connecteur Cost Action (ES 1306) that granted the Short Term Scientific Mission entitled “The effects of torrent control works on sediment connectivity in a debris-flow catchment using digital photogrammetry and the index of connectivity” of Sara Cucchiaro at the University of Lleida (Spain). This work has also benefited from the methodological developments obtained in the research projects MorphSed (CGL2012-36394, and MorphPeak (CGL2016-78874-R), funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the European Regional Development Fund Scheme. The authors acknowledge the support from the Economy and Knowledge Department of the Catalan Government through the Consolidated Research Group (RIUS 2017 SGR 459) and CERCA Program. We would also like to thank Aleix Calsamiglia at the University of the Balearic Islands for helping in initial field surveys. The authors thank the guest editor, Sebastiano Trevisani, and the two anonymous referees for providing useful comments that greatly improved the quality of the paper.


Manel Llena was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Education Culture and Sports (FPU014/01687); Damià Vericat was beneficiary of a Ramón y Cajal Fellowship funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (RYC-2010-06264) when this manuscript was prepared.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agricultural, Food, Environmental and Animal SciencesUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  2. 2.Department of Life SciencesUniversity of TriesteTriesteItaly
  3. 3.National Research Council of Italy, Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological Protection (CNR IRPI)PaduaItaly
  4. 4.Fluvial Dynamics Research GroupUniversity of LleidaLleidaSpain
  5. 5.Forest Science and Technology Centre of CataloniaSolsonaSpain
  6. 6.Polytechnic Department of Engineering and ArchitectureUniversity of UdineUdineItaly

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