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Open AccessTechnical Note

Modeling Salt Marsh Vegetation Height Using Unoccupied Aircraft Systems and Structure from Motion

Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Marine Laboratory, 135 Duke Marine Lab Rd, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
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Remote Sens. 2020, 12(14), 2333; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs12142333
Received: 7 June 2020 / Revised: 13 July 2020 / Accepted: 17 July 2020 / Published: 21 July 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue She Maps)
Salt marshes provide important services to coastal ecosystems in the southeastern United States. In many locations, salt marsh habitats are threatened by coastal development and erosion, necessitating large-scale monitoring. Assessing vegetation height across the extent of a marsh can provide a comprehensive analysis of its health, as vegetation height is associated with Above Ground Biomass (AGB) and can be used to track degradation or growth over time. Traditional methods to do this, however, rely on manual measurements of stem heights that can cause harm to the marsh ecosystem. Moreover, manual measurements are limited in scale and are often time and labor intensive. Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (UAS) can provide an alternative to manual measurements and generate continuous results across a large spatial extent in a short period of time. In this study, a multirotor UAS equipped with optical Red Green Blue (RGB) and multispectral sensors was used to survey five salt marshes in Beaufort, North Carolina. Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry of the resultant imagery allowed for continuous modeling of the entire marsh ecosystem in a three-dimensional space. From these models, vegetation height was extracted and compared to ground-based manual measurements. Vegetation heights generated from UAS data consistently under-predicted true vegetation height proportionally and a transformation was developed to predict true vegetation height. Vegetation height may be used as a proxy for Above Ground Biomass (AGB) and contribute to blue carbon estimates, which describe the carbon sequestered in marine ecosystems. Employing this transformation, our results indicate that UAS and SfM are capable of producing accurate assessments of salt marsh health via consistent and accurate vegetation height measurements. View Full-Text
Keywords: Spartina alterniflora; salt marsh; monitoring; unoccupied aircraft systems; above ground biomass (AGB); vegetation height; remote sensing; structure from motion (SfM) Spartina alterniflora; salt marsh; monitoring; unoccupied aircraft systems; above ground biomass (AGB); vegetation height; remote sensing; structure from motion (SfM)
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MDPI and ACS Style

DiGiacomo, A.E.; Bird, C.N.; Pan, V.G.; Dobroski, K.; Atkins-Davis, C.; Johnston, D.W.; Ridge, J.T. Modeling Salt Marsh Vegetation Height Using Unoccupied Aircraft Systems and Structure from Motion. Remote Sens. 2020, 12, 2333. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs12142333

AMA Style

DiGiacomo AE, Bird CN, Pan VG, Dobroski K, Atkins-Davis C, Johnston DW, Ridge JT. Modeling Salt Marsh Vegetation Height Using Unoccupied Aircraft Systems and Structure from Motion. Remote Sensing. 2020; 12(14):2333. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs12142333

Chicago/Turabian Style

DiGiacomo, Alexandra E.; Bird, Clara N.; Pan, Virginia G.; Dobroski, Kelly; Atkins-Davis, Claire; Johnston, David W.; Ridge, Justin T. 2020. "Modeling Salt Marsh Vegetation Height Using Unoccupied Aircraft Systems and Structure from Motion" Remote Sens. 12, no. 14: 2333. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs12142333

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