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Remote Sens. 2018, 10(11), 1734; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs10111734

Permafrost Terrain Dynamics and Infrastructure Impacts Revealed by UAV Photogrammetry and Thermal Imaging

1
NWT Centre for Geomatics, Government of Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9, Canada
2
Northwest Territories Geological Survey, Government of Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9, Canada
3
Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, ON K1A 0E4, Canada
4
School of Environment, University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
5
Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5, Canada
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 9 July 2018 / Revised: 28 September 2018 / Accepted: 12 October 2018 / Published: 3 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Remote Sensing of Dynamic Permafrost Regions)
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Abstract

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems, sensors, and photogrammetric processing techniques have enabled timely and highly detailed three-dimensional surface reconstructions at a scale that bridges the gap between conventional remote-sensing and field-scale observations. In this work 29 rotary and fixed-wing UAV surveys were conducted during multiple field campaigns, totaling 47 flights and over 14.3 km2, to document permafrost thaw subsidence impacts on or close to road infrastructure in the Northwest Territories, Canada. This paper provides four case studies: (1) terrain models and orthomosaic time series revealed the morphology and daily to annual dynamics of thaw-driven mass wasting phenomenon (retrogressive thaw slumps; RTS). Scar zone cut volume estimates ranged between 3.2 × 103 and 5.9 × 106 m3. The annual net erosion of RTS surveyed ranged between 0.35 × 103 and 0.39 × 106 m3. The largest RTS produced a long debris tongue with an estimated volume of 1.9 × 106 m3. Downslope transport of scar zone and embankment fill materials was visualized using flow vectors, while thermal imaging revealed areas of exposed ground ice and mobile lobes of saturated, thawed materials. (2) Stratigraphic models were developed for RTS headwalls, delineating ground-ice bodies and stratigraphic unconformities. (3) In poorly drained areas along road embankments, UAV surveys detected seasonal terrain uplift and settlement of up to 0.5 m (>1700 m2 in extent) as a result of injection ice development. (4) Time series of terrain models highlighted the thaw-driven evolution of a borrow pit (6.4 × 105 m3 cut volume) constructed in permafrost terrain, whereby fluvial and thaw-driven sediment transfer (1.1 and 3.9 × 103 m3 a−1 respectively) was observed and annual slope profile reconfiguration was monitored to gain management insights concerning site stabilization. Elevation model vertical accuracies were also assessed as part of the case studies and ranged between 0.02 and 0.13 m Root Mean Square Error. Photogrammetric models processed with Post-processed Kinematic image solutions achieved similar accuracies without ground control points over much larger and complex areas than previously reported. The high resolution of UAV surveys, and the capacity to derive quantitative time series provides novel insights into permafrost processes that are otherwise challenging to study. The timely emergence of these tools bridges field-based research and applied studies with broad-scale remote-sensing approaches during a period when climate change is transforming permafrost environments. View Full-Text
Keywords: anthropogenic disturbance; ground ice; landscape dynamics; thaw slump; thermokarst; stratigraphy; time series; digital terrain model anthropogenic disturbance; ground ice; landscape dynamics; thaw slump; thermokarst; stratigraphy; time series; digital terrain model
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Van der Sluijs, J.; Kokelj, S.V.; Fraser, R.H.; Tunnicliffe, J.; Lacelle, D. Permafrost Terrain Dynamics and Infrastructure Impacts Revealed by UAV Photogrammetry and Thermal Imaging. Remote Sens. 2018, 10, 1734.

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