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Automated remote cameras for monitoring alluvial sandbars on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Arizona

February 27, 2018

Automated camera systems deployed at 43 remote locations along the Colorado River corridor in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, are used to document sandbar erosion and deposition that are associated with the operations of Glen Canyon Dam. The camera systems, which can operate independently for a year or more, consist of a digital camera triggered by a separate data controller, both of which are powered by an external battery and solar panel. Analysis of images for categorical changes in sandbar size show deposition at 50 percent or more of monitoring sites during controlled flood releases done in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The images also depict erosion of sandbars and show that erosion rates were highest in the first 3 months following each controlled flood. Erosion rates were highest in 2015, the year of highest annual dam release volume. Comparison of the categorical estimates of sandbar change agree with sandbar change (erosion or deposition) measured by topographic surveys in 76 percent of cases evaluated. A semiautomated method for quantifying changes in sandbar area from the remote-camera images by rectifying the oblique images and segmenting the sandbar from the rest of the image is presented. Calculation of sandbar area by this method agrees with sandbar area determined by topographic survey within approximately 8 percent and allows quantification of sandbar area monthly (or more frequently).