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Open AccessArticle

The Potential of Low-Cost UAVs and Open-Source Photogrammetry Software for High-Resolution Monitoring of Alpine Glaciers: A Case Study from the Kanderfirn (Swiss Alps)

1
Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Hallerstrasse 12, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
2
Chair for Strategic Landscape Planning and Management, Technical University of Munich, Emil-Ramann-Str. 6, 85354 Freising, Germany
3
Institute of Geography, University of Augsburg, Universitätsstr. 10, 86135 Augsburg, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Geosciences 2019, 9(8), 356; https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences9080356
Received: 16 May 2019 / Revised: 5 August 2019 / Accepted: 7 August 2019 / Published: 12 August 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Cryosphere II)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are a rapidly evolving tool in geosciences and are increasingly deployed for studying the dynamic processes of the earth’s surface. To assess the potential of autonomous low-cost UAVs for the mapping and monitoring of alpine glaciers, we conducted multiple aerial surveys on the Kanderfirn in the Swiss Alps in 2017 and 2018 using open hardware and software of the Paparazzi UAV project. The open-source photogrammetry software OpenDroneMap was tested for the generation of high-resolution orthophotos and digital surface models (DSMs) from aerial imagery and cross-checked with the well-established proprietary software Pix4D. Accurately measured ground control points served for the determination of the geometric accuracy of the orthophotos and DSMs. A horizontal (xy) accuracy of 0.7–1.2 m and a vertical (z) accuracy of 0.7–2.1 m was achieved for OpenDroneMap, compared to a xy-accuracy of 0.3–0.5 m and a z-accuracy of 0.4–0.5 m obtained for Pix4D. Based on the analysis and comparison of different orthophotos and DSMs, surface elevation, roughness and brightness changes from 3 June to 29 September 2018 were quantified. While the brightness of the glacier surface decreased linearly over the ablation season, the surface roughness increased. The mean DSM-based elevation change across the glacier tongue was 8 m, overestimating the measured melting and surface lowering at the installed ablation stakes by about 1.5 m. The presented results highlight that self-built fixed-wing UAVs in tandem with open-source photogrammetry software are an affordable alternative to commercial remote-sensing platforms and proprietary software. The applied low-cost approach also provides great potential for other regions and geoscientific disciplines. View Full-Text
Keywords: glacier monitoring; glacier dynamics; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; Paparazzi UAV; OpenDroneMap; photogrammetry; structure from motion; orthophotos; digital elevation models glacier monitoring; glacier dynamics; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; Paparazzi UAV; OpenDroneMap; photogrammetry; structure from motion; orthophotos; digital elevation models
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MDPI and ACS Style

Groos, A.R.; Bertschinger, T.J.; Kummer, C.M.; Erlwein, S.; Munz, L.; Philipp, A. The Potential of Low-Cost UAVs and Open-Source Photogrammetry Software for High-Resolution Monitoring of Alpine Glaciers: A Case Study from the Kanderfirn (Swiss Alps). Geosciences 2019, 9, 356. https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences9080356

AMA Style

Groos AR, Bertschinger TJ, Kummer CM, Erlwein S, Munz L, Philipp A. The Potential of Low-Cost UAVs and Open-Source Photogrammetry Software for High-Resolution Monitoring of Alpine Glaciers: A Case Study from the Kanderfirn (Swiss Alps). Geosciences. 2019; 9(8):356. https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences9080356

Chicago/Turabian Style

Groos, Alexander R.; Bertschinger, Thalia J.; Kummer, Céline M.; Erlwein, Sabrina; Munz, Lukas; Philipp, Andreas. 2019. "The Potential of Low-Cost UAVs and Open-Source Photogrammetry Software for High-Resolution Monitoring of Alpine Glaciers: A Case Study from the Kanderfirn (Swiss Alps)" Geosciences 9, no. 8: 356. https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences9080356

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