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Geomorphometry from unmanned aerial surveys

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Transactions in GIS

Published online on


Unmanned aerial systems (UASs) are widely used for remote sensing, including the production of high‐resolution digital elevation models (DEMs). We study the possibilities of UAS‐based aerial surveys to produce photogrammetrically sound, high‐resolution DEMs intended for geomorphometric modeling. The study was conducted at the Zaoksky testing ground (Russia). To carry out an aerial survey, we used a UAS Geoscan‐101 equipped with a Sony DSC‐RX1 camera and a Topcon GNSS receiver. Aerial photographs were processed using Agisoft PhotoScan Professional software. Applying dense point cloud generation and classification, we produced DEMs with resolutions of 6 cm, 20 cm, and 1 m. Using a universal spectral analytical method, we derived models of several morphometric variables (i.e., slope gradient, horizontal, vertical, minimal, and maximal curvatures) from DEMs with resolutions of 20 cm and 1 m. We found that it is possible to produce noiseless models and well‐readable maps of morphometric variables for grassy areas with separately standing groups of trees and shrubs. However, UAS‐based DEMs cannot be applied for modeling of forested areas: there occur pronounced unrecoverable artifacts due to errors of automated classification of the dense point cloud. Finally, we present recommendations for the production of UAS‐derived, photogrammetrically sound, high‐resolution DEMs intended for geomorphometry.