WETLAND HYDROLOGICAL INTEGRITY ASSESSMENT WITH UNMANNED AERIAL SYSTEMS (UAS)
A key component of the health status of a wetland ecosystem is the present hydrological integrity. The analysis of on-site activities that impact on the hydrology of a particular wetland was undertaken using an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) in combination with field studies. The WET-Health methodology was followed for the hydrological assessment, where wetland health is a measure of the deviation of a wetland’s structure and function from its natural reference condition. The extent and nature of activities within the wetland such as impoundments, excavations and indicators of visible damage such as erosion gullies was determined through high resolution UAS mapping using a commercial off-the-shelf digital camera. Structure from Motion (SfM) computer vision techniques were used to derive ultra-high resolution point clouds, orthophotos, digital elevation models (DEMs) and digital terrain models (DTMs). Visual and statistical analyses of the point clouds and surface models were used to derive detailed information useful for enhanced hydrological health assessment of the wetland. The WET-Health hydrology module completed with the aid of the UAS products still indicated that the hydrology of the wetland is completely modified as indicated by the “F” Present Ecological State (PES) category and that the hydrological state of the wetland will deteriorate (change score). However a higher impact score was determined through the enhanced visualisation and completion of scale-appropriate measurements of hydrological features. In conclusion, the use of UAS can significantly enhance the assessment of surface hydrology of wetlands and thereby allow for more effective management, decision making and conservation of wetland ecosystems.