Crowd-sourced SfM: Best practices for high resolution monitoring of coastal cliffs and bluffs

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Structure from motion (SfM) photogrammetry is an increasingly common technique for measuring landscape change over time by deriving 3D point clouds and surface models from overlapping photographs. Traditional change detection approaches require photos that are geotagged with a differential GPS (DGPS) location, which requires expensive equipment that can limit the ability of communities and researchers to perform frequent (i.e. daily, weekly, and/or monthly) surveys. Crowd-sourced photos can lower the barrier to entry and substantially increase the frequency of surveys, although such photos often lack accurate location information and can vary in quality. This paper presents a SfM approach for monitoring environmental change in high relief coastal environments that does not require all photos have DGPS location information and does not require field survey data. A 1.5 km section of coastal bluffs near the Elwha River Delta (Washington state) is used to demonstrate the efficacy of this approach. Photos of the bluff were collected with a digital SLR camera or phone camera while either on foot along the beach or from a boat as part of monitoring following removal of two large dams along the Elwha River during 2011–2013. Only 33% of photos had DGPS location information, whereas most photos had no location information or locations that were accurate to a couple of meters. All photos were processed using 3D, 4D, and fixed-floating (FF) SfM alignment methods and the resulting dense point clouds are used to compare the different alignment approaches with crowd-sourced photo sets. Results demonstrate that 4D and FF approaches are more likely to reconstruct and are more accurate than the 3D approach. While the 4D and FF have comparable accuracies, the FF approach is several orders of magnitude more efficient, as this method can leverage camera location information from relatively few photos to improve the accuracy of all aligned and derived products. Effectively utilizing crowd-sourced photos in SfM change detection can improve the frequency of surveying a landscape in a more cost-effective approach that also has potential for citizen-science engagement and communication. This is especially important for data-poor environments such as high-relief coastal cliffs and bluffs, where near-nadir imagery and LIDAR may fail to accurately capture near-vertical cliffs or bluff faces. Based on the analysis of different photo alignment and filtering approaches, we present suggested best practices for engaging citizen scientists in coastal cliff and bluff monitoring efforts through collecting photos amenable for SfM reconstruction.




Wernette, P., Miller, I. M., Ritchie, A. W., & Warrick, J. A. (2022). Crowd-sourced SfM: Best practices for high resolution monitoring of coastal cliffs and bluffs. Continental Shelf Research, 245.

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