New Paper Published : Centimeter-scale mapping of phototrophic biofilms in glacial forefields using visible band ratios and UAV imagery

Microbial biofilms have received great attention in the last few decades from both aquatic ecologists and biogeomorphologists. Most recently, this has focused on mapping biofilms to understand their spatial distributions and ecosystem services. Such studies often involve the use of satellite imagery, which typically provides large temporal and spatial scales and wide-range spectral information. Although satellites have the advantage of multi- and hyper-spectral sensors, images often have low spatial resolution that limits their use in river studies, where both rivers are narrower and stream processes occur at resolutions smaller than the footprint of satellite sensors. Spatial resolution is sensor quality dependent but also controlled by sensor elevation above the ground. Hence, high resolutions can be achieved either by using a very expensive sensor or by decreasing the distance between the target area and the sensor itself. To date, sensor technology has advanced to a point where multi- or even hyper-spectral cameras can be easily carried out by an Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) at unprecedented spatial resolutions. Where such sensors have high spectral resolution, they are often prohibitively expensive, especially as their use in extreme environments such as glacial forefields risks UAV damage. In this paper, we test the performance of visible band ratios in mapping biofilms in an Alpine glacier forefield characterized by a well-developed and heterogeneous stream ecosystem but using a low-cost UAV. The paper shows that low-cost and consumer grade UAVs can be easily deployed in such extreme environments, delivering both quality RGB images for photogrammetric (SfM-MVS) processing and sufficient spectral information for benthic biofilm mapping at high temporal and spatial resolution. A copy id freely available here.