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April 10, 2018

Aerial Imagery Gives Insight into Water Trends

iUTAH researcher Bethany Neilson and Tyler King, at Utah State University, have developed a new method to estimate river discharge using aerial imagery gathered from helicopters and drones.


A media release by USU’s Grace Michaelson says that new technology could make measurements of water flow of rivers more feasible, accurate, and less expensive in the field.  The article states, “(t)hese alternative methods for monitoring water resources are necessary to continue meeting global water demands while simultaneously easing the impacts of floods and droughts.”


The article goes on to add that, “(t)here are a limited and dwindling number of locations where river discharge is measured directly at gauging stations. Establishing and maintaining these stations is expensive and time consuming. As a result, preference is often given to large rivers of significant economic and social importance. Additionally, other remote sensing methods have been developed, but rely on relatively coarse data collected by satellites and, as such, also focus on the larger rivers of the world. As a result, scientists lack a complete view of what is happening in smaller river basins, leaving limited understanding of the processes controlling river water quantity and quality.


King and Neilson’s approach aims to fill this data gap by using high resolution aerial imagery to estimate flows at many locations along smaller rivers and streams. This complements both traditional gauging station networks that are tied to a limited number of specific locations along river networks and satellite based remote sensing methods that are used to estimate flows in larger rivers.”


After the development of a basic approach to imaging “information is then used within a hydraulic model to approximate the relationship between river discharge and river width. Once these models are built, any following observations of river width — including satellite imagery, aerial imagery or ground observations — can be used to estimate river discharge. ‘Remote sensing methods like these can significantly improve our ability to understand hydrologic responses to a changing climate in small, ungauged watersheds around the world,’ said Neilson, an associate professor at USU.”


Nellson and Tyler King, a PhD candidate at USU,  published the results of their study Feb. 7, 2018 in Water Resources Research.


Press: Science Daily | Utah State Today | NSF News From the Field | ENN Environmental News Network


Researchers at USU published a study on a method they developed to estimate river discharge using aerial imagery gathered from helicopters and drones. Credit: Utah State University



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