STREAMS DO WORK: MEASURING THE WORK OF LOW-ORDER STREAMS ON THE LANDSCAPE USING POINT CLOUDS
The mutable nature of low-order streams makes regular updating of surface water maps necessary for accurate representation. Low-order streams make up roughly half the streams in the conterminous United States by length, and small inaccuracies in stream head location can result in significant error in stream reach, order, and density. Reliable maps of stream features are vital for hydrologic modeling, ecosystem research, and boundary monitoring. High resolution digital elevation models derived from lidar data have shown promise in low order stream modeling yet forested high relief landscapes and low relief agricultural areas remain challenging. Here we present early results from research analyzing lidar point clouds to identify features and patterns that may be used in low-order stream identification and classification in challenging geographic conditions. This work has identified characteristics derived from point clouds that correlate with the presence of streams and stream heads and show promise for mapping small streams. In low topographic relief agricultural areas, cross sections collected at regular intervals along drainage channels extracted as 3D lines show a significant jump in value and variance of profile curvature standard deviation at stream heads. In high relief areas, observations show potential for stream mapping by identifying trends in riparian zone structure. Lidar return point density from riparian vegetation under 30 feet tall dips in the vicinity of intermittent stream heads. Also seen is an increase in point density above 60 feet downstream of stream heads. The trends found here likely reflect a change in vegetation structure relative to the presence of streams.