Structure from Motion (SfM) Photogrammetry with Drone Data: A Low Cost Method for Monitoring Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Forests in Developing Countries
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Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry applied to photographs captured from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) platforms is increasingly being utilised for a wide range of applications including structural characterisation of forests. The aim of this study was to undertake a first evaluation of whether SfM from UAVs has potential as a low cost method for forest monitoring within developing countries in the context of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). The project evaluated SfM horizontal and vertical accuracy for measuring the height of individual trees. Aerial image data were collected for two test sites; Meshaw (Devon, UK) and Dryden (Scotland, UK) using a Quest QPOD fixed wing UAV and DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter UAV, respectively. Comparisons were made between SfM and airborne LiDAR point clouds and surface models at the Meshaw site, while at Dryden, SfM tree heights were compared to ground measured tree heights. Results obtained showed a strong correlation between SfM and LiDAR digital surface models (R2 = 0.89) and canopy height models (R2 = 0.75). However, at Dryden, a poor correlation was observed between SfM tree heights and ground measured heights (R2 = 0.19). The poor results at Dryden were explained by the fact that the forest plot had a closed canopy structure such that SfM failed to generate enough below-canopy ground points. Finally, an evaluation of UAV surveying methods was also undertaken to determine their usefulness and cost-effectiveness for plot-level forest monitoring. The study concluded that although SfM from UAVs performs poorly in closed canopies, it can still provide a low cost solution in those developing countries where forests have sparse canopy cover (<50%) with individual tree crowns and ground surfaces well-captured by SfM photogrammetry. Since more than half of the forest covered areas of the world have canopy cover <50%, we can conclude that SfM has enormous potential for forest mapping in developing countries.
Leon DeBell flew the QPOD Quest UAV at Meshaw as part of flight testing for the QuestEarthWater project, which was funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board and NERC, and we are also grateful for the field assistance of Naomi Gatis and David Luscombe at this site. The NERC Tellus SouthWest project is acknowledged for providing the LiDAR data used at Meshaw. The authors would also like to thank Mark Buie, Bruce Gittings and Alasdair Mac Arthur for helping out with the UAV fieldwork at Dryden Farm.
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Vol. 8, Iss. 3, Art. No. 68