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Open-File Report 02-367

Evaluation of Airborne Thermal-Infrared Image Data for Monitoring Aquatic Habitats and Cultural Resources within the Grand Canyon

By Philip A. Davis

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This study examined thermal-infrared (TIR) image data acquired using the airborne Advanced Thematic Mapper (ATM) sensor in the afternoon of July 25th, 2000 over a portion of the Colorado River corridor to determine the capability of these 100-cm resolution data to address some biologic and cultural resource requirements for GCMRC. The requirements investigated included the mapping of warm backwaters that may serve as fish habitats and the detection (and monitoring) of archaeological structures and natural springs that occur on land. This report reviews the procedure for calibration of the airborne TIR data to obtain surface water temperatures and shows the results for various river reaches within the acquired river corridor. With respect to mapping warm backwater areas, our results show that TIR data need to be acquired with a gain setting that optimizes the range of temperatures found within the water to increase sensitivity of the resulting data to a level of 0.1 °C and to reduce scan-line noise. Data acquired within a two-hour window around maximum solar heating (1:30 PM) is recommended to provide maximum solar heating of the water and to minimize cooling effects of late-afternoon shadows. Ground-truth data within the temperature range of the warm backwaters are necessary for calibration of the TIR data. The ground-truth data need to be collected with good locational accuracy. The derived water-temperature data provide the capability for rapid, wide-area mapping of warm-water fish habitats using a threshold temperature for such habitats.

The collected daytime TIR data were ineffective in mapping (detecting) both archaeological structures and natural springs (seeps). The inability of the daytime TIR data to detect archaeological structures is attributed to the low thermal sensitivity (0.3 °C) of the collected data. The detection of subtle thermal differences between geologic materials requires sensitivities of at least 0.1 °C, which can be obtained by most TIR sensors using an appropriate gain setting. Simultaneous data collection for both land and water purposes can be achieved using sensors that collect TIR data in two separate channels, each channel using a gain setting most appropriate for land or water. The detection of archaeological structures and natural water seeps would also be improved by collection of data after sunset, which would require a separate data acquisition from that providing surface water temperature data and therefore additional cost.

At this point, the cost for acquiring TIR data is quite high ($620/river-km) compared to the potential benefits of the data, unless reflected-wavelength data are also collected that can satisfy other GCMRC protocol requirements (such as mapping riparian vegetation). This is especially true if multiple data acquisitions are required during the year for temporal analyses of backwater areas. The cost for these data cannot be totally mitigated by its ability to partly replace the need for ground surveys of backwaters because calibration of the TIR data will require some ground-truth data from warm backwater areas (in addition to low-temperature main-stem data). However, the airborne data can provide a product that cannot be approached by ground surveys, that being an instantaneous (2 hour) map of surface water temperature over a 160-km stretch of the Grand Canyon.

First posted November 11, 2002

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For additional information, contact:
Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 901
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3591

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Suggested citation:

Davis, Phillip A., 2002, Evaluation of Airborne Thermal-Infrared Image Data for Monitoring Aquatic Habitats and Cultural Resources within the Grand Canyon: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 02-367, 49 pp,

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