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Mapping benthic algae and cyanobacteria in river channels from aerial photographs and satellite images: A proof-of-concept investigation on the Buffalo National River, AR, USA

February 16, 2022

Although rivers are of immense practical, aesthetic, and recreational value, these aquatic habitats are particularly sensitive to environmental changes. Increasingly, changes in streamflow and water quality are resulting in blooms of bottom-attached (benthic) algae, also known as periphyton, which have become widespread in many water bodies of US national parks. Because these blooms degrade visitor experiences and threaten human and ecosystem health, improved methods of characterizing benthic algae are needed. This study evaluated the potential utility of remote sensing techniques for mapping variations in algal density in shallow, clear-flowing rivers. As part of an initial proof-of-concept investigation, field measurements of water depth and percent cover of benthic algae were collected from two reaches of the Buffalo National River along with aerial photographs and multispectral satellite images. Applying a band ratio algorithm to these data yielded reliable depth estimates, although a shallow bias and moderate level of precision were observed. Spectral distinctions among algal percent cover values ranging from 0 to 100% were subtle and became only slightly more pronounced when the data were aggregated to four ordinal levels. A bagged trees machine learning model trained using the original spectral bands and image-derived depth estimates as predictor variables was used to produce classified maps of algal density. The spatial and temporal patterns depicted in these maps were reasonable but overall classification accuracies were modest, up to 64.6%, due to a lack of spectral detail. To further advance remote sensing of benthic algae and other periphyton, future studies could adopt hyperspectral approaches and more quantitative, continuous metrics such as biomass.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Mapping benthic algae and cyanobacteria in river channels from aerial photographs and satellite images: A proof-of-concept investigation on the Buffalo National River, AR, USA
DOI 10.3390/rs14040953
Authors Carl J. Legleiter, Shawn W Hodges
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Remote Sensing
Index ID 70228757
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Integrated Modeling and Prediction Division

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