An Affordable Method of Thermal Infrared Remote Sensing of Wadeable Rivers Using a Weather Balloon

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Excellence


Colorado State University * Office for Undergraduate Research

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weather balloon, rivers, infrared remote sensing

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Last Page



Stream temperatures influence instream habitat and the health and function of aquatic organisms by affecting metabolic rates, life histories, and productivity. Affordable and repeatable methods to monitor stream temperatures with appropriate temporal and spatial resolution are needed to detect thermal refugia for species of interest or identify thermal pollution. This study describes an approach to measure high resolution water temperatures in relatively short (~1-3 km), wadeable river reaches using a weather balloon-mounted thermal infrared camera. We tested this approach in November of 2014 at a confluence mixing zone of the Logan River and Blacksmith Fork in northern Utah, USA. Overall, thermal infrared imagery captured directly overhead reduced reflectance, which occurs at oblique angles (e.g., taken from stream banks). Also, radiant surface stream temperatures were representative of kinetic stream temperatures measured at depth in the water column. Our method provided high spatial resolution of a confluence mixing zone that is poorly described using conventional stream temperature measurements, such as temperature loggers or higher altitude fixed-wing aircraft remote sensing, which may represent lateral stream surface temperatures with few pixels. Finally, our approach costs less than $400 per flight (not including a thermal infrared camera) and is not constrained by battery-life, so can be easily repeated to monitor spatio-temporal stream temperature change.

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