Measuring bluff erosion part 1: Terrestrial laser scanning methods for change detection

Stephanie S. Day, Karen B. Gran, Patrick Belmont, Tim Wawrzyniec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Human activities influence watershed sediment dynamics in profound ways, often resulting in excessive loading of suspended sediment to rivers. One of the primary factors limiting our ability to effectively manage sediment at the watershed scale has been our inability to adequately measure relatively small erosion rates (on the order of millimeters to centimeters per year) over annual and sub-annual time scales on spatially-extensive landforms, such as river banks and bluffs. Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) can be employed to address this need. TLS collects high-resolution data allowing for more accurate monitoring of erosion rates and processes, and provides a new opportunity to make precise measurements of geomorphic change on vertical landforms like banks and bluffs, but challenges remain. This research highlights challenges and limitations of using TLS for change detection on river banks and bluffs including the presence of vegetation, natural surface crenulations, and difficulties with creating benchmarks, and provides solutions developed to overcome these limitations. Results indicate that data processing algorithms for change detection can have a significant impact on the calculated erosion rates, with different methods producing results that can vary by over 100%. The most accurate change detection technique compares a point cloud to a triangulated irregular network (TIN) along a set of vectors that accommodate bluff curvature. This paper outlines a variety of methods used to measure bluff change via TLS and explains the accompanying error analysis that supports these methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1055-1067
Number of pages13
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number10
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Change detection
  • Erosion
  • LiDAR
  • Remote sensing
  • Terrestrial laser scanning


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