UAV-BASED GLACIER MONITORING: GNSS KINEMATIC TRACK POST-PROCESSING AND DIRECT GEOREFERENCING FOR ACCURATE RECONSTRUCTIONS IN CHALLENGING ENVIRONMENTS
Keywords: UAV photogrammetry, UAV GNSS track post-processing, Direct georeferencing, Glacier monitoring
Abstract. Continuous monitoring of glaciers is of key importance to understand their morphological evolution over time and monitor the impact of climate change. Recently, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have proven to be ideal candidates for glacier monitoring thanks to their flexibility and ease of processing with software packages. Traditionally, for high-accurate and geodetically relevant results, Ground Control Points (GCPs) need to be homogeneously distributed over the area of interest and manually identified in the imagery to guarantee accurate reconstructions. However, the GCP setup is always time consuming and, in many cases, a difficult operation due to logistic constraints. Nowadays, many UAVs offer GNSS Real Time Kinematic (RTK) capabilities that usually highly improve 3D reconstructions. However, there are circumstances in which an RTK solution cannot be directly achieved in the field. This is particularly frequent in challenging mountain environments such as glaciers. In such cases, post-processing UAV GNSS kinematic tracks could represent a powerful approach for improving the quality of 3D models. The goal of this work is to investigate the potential of UAV track post-processing combined with direct georeferencing for accurate 3D reconstructions without the need for GCPs in a complex environment of an Alpine glacier. The study area is Forni Glacier in the Rhaetian Alps, Italy. The data were acquired during two campaigns performed in August 2020 and August 2021 and include UAV images captured using a DJI Phantom 4 RTK and target positions measured with Leica GS18 I receivers. The data were processed using a pipeline entirely implemented in the Leica Infinity software that combines GNSS post-processing, a standard photogrammetric pipeline and a new tool to post-process GNSS kinematic tracks of UAVs. The approach based on UAV track post-processing and direct georeferencing was assessed using the acquired targets as Check Points (CPs) and compared to a standard photogrammetric approach in terms of glacier height loss computation. The results show Root Mean Square Errors (RMSEs) of the CPs below 4 cm for both the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. As for glacier height loss computation, the DPCs generated from the two surveys using a standard photogrammetric approach and a workflow based on UAV track post-processing and direct georeferencing were differentiated to compute the height differences of the glacier surfaces over one year. The two investigated approaches show similar results with an average height loss of 5 metres measured on the glacier tongue and demonstrate that UAV track post-processing can compensate for the RTK signal loss allowing accurate 3D reconstruction and eliminating the need for GCPs, especially if pre-calibration is performed.