Suitability of ground-based SfM–MVS for monitoring glacial and periglacial processes
Abstract. Photo-based surface reconstruction is rapidly emerging as an alternative survey technique to lidar (light detection and ranging) in many fields of geoscience fostered by the recent development of computer vision algorithms such as structure from motion (SfM) and dense image matching such as multi-view stereo (MVS). The objectives of this work are to test the suitability of the ground-based SfM–MVS approach for calculating the geodetic mass balance of a 2.1 km2 glacier and for detecting the surface displacement of a neighbouring active rock glacier located in the eastern Italian Alps. The photos were acquired in 2013 and 2014 using a digital consumer-grade camera during single-day field surveys. Airborne laser scanning (ALS, otherwise known as airborne lidar) data were used as benchmarks to estimate the accuracy of the photogrammetric digital elevation models (DEMs) and the reliability of the method. The SfM–MVS approach enabled the reconstruction of high-quality DEMs, which provided estimates of glacial and periglacial processes similar to those achievable using ALS. In stable bedrock areas outside the glacier, the mean and the standard deviation of the elevation difference between the SfM–MVS DEM and the ALS DEM was −0.42 ± 1.72 and 0.03 ± 0.74 m in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The overall pattern of elevation loss and gain on the glacier were similar with both methods, ranging between −5.53 and + 3.48 m. In the rock glacier area, the elevation difference between the SfM–MVS DEM and the ALS DEM was 0.02 ± 0.17 m. The SfM–MVS was able to reproduce the patterns and the magnitudes of displacement of the rock glacier observed by the ALS, ranging between 0.00 and 0.48 m per year.
The use of natural targets as ground control points, the occurrence of shadowed and low-contrast areas, and in particular the suboptimal camera network geometry imposed by the morphology of the study area were the main factors affecting the accuracy of photogrammetric DEMs negatively. Technical improvements such as using an aerial platform and/or placing artificial targets could significantly improve the results but run the risk of being more demanding in terms of costs and logistics.