Looking to the skies: realising the combined potential of drones and thermal infrared imagery to advance hydrological process understanding in headwaters

Stephen J. Dugdale, Julian Klaus, David M. Hannah

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

Abstract

In river systems, headwater networks contain the vast majority of the stream length. Thus, climate and land-use change in headwaters have disproportionate impacts on downstream ecosystems and societies that rely on them. Despite decades of hydrological research, difficulties in observing hydrological properties across scales means that scientific knowledge of processes driving streamflow in headwaters remains limited. However, the recent emergence of two complementary technologies, drones and thermal infrared (TIR) remote sensing, has potential to collect data at scales and resolutions needed to advance hydrological process understanding in headwaters. In this commentary, we explain how drone-based TIR can offer unique high-resolution observations of surface connectivity and headwater network dynamics across multiple spatio-temporal scales. We explore the current state-of-the-art of drones and TIR imaging in the hydrological sciences, highlighting the potential benefits but also steps that will need to be taken to release these technologies' full potential. We finish by contending that drone-based TIR is particularly well-placed to bridge the current gap between field (point) observations and model simulations to provide the improved hydrological understanding needed for a changing world.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021WR031168
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume58
Issue number2
Early online date20 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Barret Kurylyk, Sopan Patil and another anonymous reviewer, whose helpful comments and suggestions greatly improved this commentary.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

Keywords

  • drone
  • headwater network
  • hydrological connectivity
  • remote sensing
  • streamflow generation
  • thermal infrared

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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