Calculating e-flow using UAV and ground monitoring

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Journal Article
Journal of Hydrology, 2017, 552 pp. 351 - 365
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© 2017 Elsevier B.V. Intense human activity has led to serious degradation of basin water ecosystems and severe reduction in the river flow available for aquatic biota. As an important water ecosystem index, environmental flows (e-flows) are crucial for maintaining sustainability. However, most e-flow measurement methods involve long cycles, low efficiency, and transdisciplinary expertise. This makes it impossible to rapidly assess river e-flows at basin or larger scales. This study presents a new method to rapidly assessing e-flows coupling UAV and ground monitorings. UAV was firstly used to calculate river-course cross-sections with high-resolution stereoscopic images. A dominance index was then used to identify key fish species. Afterwards a habitat suitability index, along with biodiversity and integrity indices, was used to determine an appropriate flow velocity with full consideration of the fish spawning period. The cross-sections and flow velocity values were then combined into AEHRA, an e-flow assessment method for studying e-flows and supplying-rate. To verify the results from this new method, the widely used Tennant method was employed. The root-mean-square errors of river cross-sections determined by UAV are less than 0.25 m, which constitutes 3–5% water-depth of the river cross-sections. In the study area of Jinan city, the ecological flow velocity (VE) is equal to or greater than 0.11 m/s, and the ecological water depth (HE) is greater than 0.8 m. The river ecosystem is healthy with the minimum e-flow requirements being always met when it is close to large rivers, which is beneficial for the sustainable development of the water ecosystem. In the south river channel of Jinan, the upstream flow mostly meets the minimum e-flow requirements, and the downstream flow always meets the minimum e-flow requirements. The north of Jinan consists predominantly of artificial river channels used for irrigation. Rainfall rarely meets the minimum e-flow and irrigation water requirements. We suggest that the water shortage problem can be partly solved by diversion of the Yellow River. These results can provide useful information for ecological operations and restoration. The method used in this study for calculating e-flow based on a combination of UAV and ground monitoring can effectively promote research progress into basin e-flow, and provide an important reference for e-flow monitoring around the world.
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