Accurate remote analyses of high-alpine landslides are a key requirement for future alpine safety. In critical stages of alpine landslide evolution, UAS (unmanned aerial system) data can be employed using image registration to derive ground motion with high temporal and spatial resolution. However, classical area-based algorithms suffer from dynamic surface alterations and their limited velocity range restricts detection, resulting in noise from decorrelation and hindering their application to fast landslides. Here, to reduce these limitations we apply for the first time the optical flow-time series to landslides for the analysis of one of the fastest and most critical debris flow source zones in Austria. The benchmark site Sattelkar (2130–2730 m asl), a steep, high-alpine cirque in Austria, is highly sensitive to rainfall and melt-water events, which led to a 70,000 m³ debris slide event after two days of heavy precipitation in summer 2014. We use a UAS data set of five acquisitions (2018–2020) over a temporal range of three years with 0.16 m spatial resolution. Our new methodology is to employ optical flow for landslide monitoring, which, along with phase correlation, is incorporated into the software IRIS. For performance testing, we compared the two algorithms by applying them to the UAS image stacks to calculate time-series displacement curves and ground motion maps. These maps allow the exact identification of compartments of the complex landslide body and reveal different displacement patterns, with displacement curves reflecting an increased acceleration. Visually traceable boulders in the UAS orthophotos provide independent validation of the methodology applied. Here, we demonstrate that UAS optical flow time series analysis generates a better signal extraction, and thus less noise and a wider observable velocity range—highlighting its applicability for the acceleration of a fast, high-alpine landslide.
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