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TitleLandform mapping, elevation modelling, and thaw subsidence estimation for permafrost terrain using a consumer-grade remotely-piloted aircraft
AuthorOldenborger, G AORCID logo; Bellehumeur-Génier, O; McMartin, IORCID logo; LeBlanc, A -MORCID logo
SourceDrone Systems and Applications vol. 10, no. 1, 2022 p. 309-329, Open Access logo Open Access
Alt SeriesNatural Resources Canada, Contribution Series 20210472
PublisherCanadian Science Publishing
Mediapaper; on-line; digital
File formatpdf; html
NTS55N/01; 55O/04; 55K/16; 55J/13
AreaRankin Inlet
Lat/Long WENS -92.4575 -92.0356 62.9647 62.7811
SubjectsScience and Technology; Nature and Environment; permafrost; drones
Illustrationslocation maps; photographs; satellite imagery; diagrams
ProgramClimate Change Geoscience Permafrost
Released2022 06 01
AbstractWe assess performance of a small consumer-grade remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) for landform mapping, elevation modelling, and thaw subsidence estimation in continuous permafrost terrain. We acquired RPA imagery near Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, to construct orthomosaics and digital elevation models (DEMs) that we use to interpret geomorphology and surficial geology. We estimate seasonal thaw subsidence using DEM differences. To quantify accuracy, RPA DEMs are compared with a satellite-based reference elevation. Subsidence estimates are compared with measurements from differential interferometric synthetic aperture radar (DInSAR). We find that RPA images are very effective for mapping periglacial landforms and surficial geology with the chosen flight specifications. The DEMs exhibit vertical mean absolute error of approximately 1 cm at ground control points. Away from control points, relative vertical accuracy is approximately 3 cm. Comparison to the reference elevation results in survey-wide vertical mean absolute errors of 33–66 cm with high variability and spatial autocorrelation of elevation discrepancy. There is local agreement between DEM differences, DInSAR, and on-the-ground measurements of seasonal subsidence. Results suggest that small RPA may be applicable for mapping thaw subsidence on the order of a few centimetres near control points. However, DEM differences are influenced by vegetation and are contaminated by spatially-variable artefacts, preventing reliable survey-wide RPA estimation of seasonal thaw subsidence.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) can be useful for studies of permafrost. We assess the performance of a small and portable consumer-grade RPA for landform mapping, elevation modelling, and thaw subsidence estimation for permafrost terrain. The RPA was used to create high-resolution aerial imagery and digital elevation models (DEM) at existing remote permafrost study sites near Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. The RPA images and DEM are very effective for landform mapping, surficial geological mapping and interpretation of permafrost conditions. Accuracy of the RPA DEM is spatially variable, but is highest near surveyed control points. Results suggest that consumer-grade RPA may be applicable for mapping thaw subsidence with careful considerations of potential errors.

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