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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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, http://www.morphsed.es) 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.

Funding

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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Correspondence to Sara Cucchiaro or Federico Cazorzi.

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This article is part of a Topical Collection in Environmental Earth Sciences on “Learning from spatial data: unveiling the geo-environment through quantitative approaches”, guest edited by Sebastiano Trevisani, Marco Cavalli, Jean Golay, and Paulo Pereira.

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Cucchiaro, S., Cavalli, M., Vericat, D. et al. Monitoring topographic changes through 4D-structure-from-motion photogrammetry: application to a debris-flow channel. Environ Earth Sci 77, 632 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-018-7817-4

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Keywords

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