Using kites for 3-D mapping of gullies at decimetre-resolution over several square kilometres: a case study on the Kamech catchment, Tunisia

Feurer, Denis; Planchon, Olivier; El Maaoui, Mohamed Amine; Ben Slimane, Abir; Boussema, Mohamed Rached; Pierrot-Deseilligny, Marc; Raclot, Damien

Monitoring agricultural areas threatened by soil erosion often requires decimetre topographic information over areas of several square kilometres. Airborne lidar and remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) imagery have the ability to provide repeated decimetre-resolution and -accuracy digital elevation models (DEMs) covering these extents, which is unrealistic with ground surveys. However, various factors hamper the dissemination of these technologies in a wide range of situations, including local regulations for RPAS and the cost for airborne laser systems and medium-format RPAS imagery. The goal of this study is to investigate the ability of low-tech kite aerial photography to obtain DEMs with decimetre resolution and accuracy that permit 3-D descriptions of active gullying in cultivated areas of several square kilometres. To this end, we developed and assessed a two-step workflow. First, we used both heuristic experimental approaches in field and numerical simulations to determine the conditions that make a photogrammetric flight possible and effective over several square kilometres with a kite and a consumer-grade camera. Second, we mapped and characterised the entire gully system of a test catchment in 3-D. We showed numerically and experimentally that using a thin and light line for the kite is key for a complete 3-D coverage over several square kilometres. We thus obtained a decimetre-resolution DEM covering 3.18 kminline-formula2 with a mean error and standard deviation of the error of inline-formula+7 and 22 cm respectively, hence achieving decimetre accuracy. With this data set, we showed that high-resolution topographic data permit both the detection and characterisation of an entire gully system with a high level of detail and an overall accuracy of 74 % compared to an independent field survey. Kite aerial photography with simple but appropriate equipment is hence an alternative tool that has been proven to be valuable for surveying gullies with sub-metric details in a square-kilometre-scale catchment. This case study suggests that access to high-resolution topographic data on these scales can be given to the community, which may help facilitate a better understanding of gullying processes within a broader spectrum of conditions.

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Feurer, Denis / Planchon, Olivier / El Maaoui, Mohamed Amine / et al: Using kites for 3-D mapping of gullies at decimetre-resolution over several square kilometres: a case study on the Kamech catchment, Tunisia. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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