Rock glacier monitoring using aerial photographs: conventional vs. UAV-based mapping – a comparative study

Viktor Kaufmann, Gernot Seier, Wolfgang Sulzer, Matthias Wecht, Qian Liu, Gerhard Lauk, Michael Maurer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rock glaciers are creep phenomena of mountain permafrost. Typically, these landforms look like lava flows from a bird’s eye view. Active rock glaciers move downslope with flow velocities in the range of few centimeters to several meters per year. Thus, large masses of rock and ice can be gradually transported down-valley. In this paper we present a comparative study analyzing surface change for Tschadinhorn rock glacier, a relatively fast moving rock glacier located in the Hohe Tauern Range of the Austrian Alps. Aerial photographs (1954–2017) of both metric (conventional) and non-metric (UAV-based) aerial surveys were compared to derive multi-annual to annual flow vector fields and surface height change. For each time interval given we computed a single representative value for flow velocity and, if applicable, also for area-wide surface height change, i.e. volume change. The velocity graph obtained represents the temporal evolution of the kinematics of the rock glacier with good discrimination. Volume change was difficult to quantify since temporal changes were rather small and close to insignificance. The precision and accuracy of the results obtained were numerically quantified. Our study showed that for the Tschadinhorn rock glacier UAV-based aerial surveys can substitute conventional aerial surveys as carried out by national mapping agencies, such as the Austrian Federal Office of Metrology and Surveying (BEV). Thus, UAV-based aerial surveys can help to bridge the data gap between regular aerial surveys. The high accuracy of the UAV-derived results would even allow intra-annual change detection of flow velocity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239 - 246
JournalThe International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Fields of Expertise

  • Sustainable Systems


  • NAWI Graz


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