Airborne laser scanning for riverbank erosion assessment

David P. Thoma, Satish C. Gupta, Marvin E. Bauer, C. E. Kirchoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

159 Scopus citations


Worldwide, rivers and streams are negatively impacted by sedimentation. However, there are few broad scale techniques for quantifying the sources of sediment, i.e. upland vs. river bank erosion. This research was designed to evaluate the use of airborne LIDAR for characterizing sediment and phosphorus contributions from river bank erosion. The evaluation was done on the main stem of the Blue Earth River in southern Minnesota. Detailed topographic data were collected on an annual basis in April 2001 and 2002 over a 56 km length of the river with a helicopter mounted Topeye laser system. The raw database included X, Y, Z coordinates of laser returns sampled from the river valley with a density of 1-3.3 elevations per m2. Uniform 1 m bare earth digital elevation models were constructed by stripping vegetation laser returns and interpolation. The two models were differenced to determine volume change over time, which was then converted to mass wasting by multiplying volume change with bulk density. Mass wasting rates were further converted to sediment load based on percentage of transportable material in the bank strata. The average difference between LIDAR measured elevations and RTK GPS surveyed elevations on 5 highway bridge surfaces was 2.5 and 8.8 cm for the 2001 and 2002 scans, respectively. The elevation errors were quasi-normally distributed with standard deviation of 6.7 and 6.1 cm for 2001 and 2002, respectively. No elevation or planimetric corrections were made to the laser data before calculating mass wasting rates because it was not possible to determine the source of error or if it was uniform within and between scans. The mass wasting estimate from the LIDAR surveys varied from 23% to 56% of the sediment mass transported past the downstream gauging station depending on the range of textural material that was entrained once in the river. These estimates are in the range of values reported in the literature. Total P contribution due to bank erosion from the river reach was estimated to be 201 t/yr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-501
Number of pages9
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 30 2005


  • Bank erosion
  • Laser altimetry
  • Sediment pollution

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