USING CALIBRATED RGB IMAGERY FROM LOW-COST UAVS FOR GRASSLAND MONITORING: CASE STUDY AT THE RENGEN GRASSLAND EXPERIMENT (RGE), GERMANY
Keywords: Grassland monitoring, low-cost UAVs, RGB vegetation indices, empirical line calibration
Abstract. Monitoring the spectral response of intensively managed grassland throughout the growing season allows optimizing fertilizer inputs by monitoring plant growth. For example, site-specific fertilizer application as part of precision agriculture (PA) management requires information within short time. But, this requires field-based measurements with hyper- or multispectral sensors, which may not be feasible on a day to day farming practice. Exploiting the information of RGB images from consumer grade cameras mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can offer cost-efficient as well as near-real time analysis of grasslands with high temporal and spatial resolution. The potential of RGB imagery-based vegetation indices (VI) from consumer grade cameras mounted on UAVs has been explored recently in several. However, for multitemporal analyses it is desirable to calibrate the digital numbers (DN) of RGB-images to physical units. In this study, we explored the comparability of the RGBVI from a consumer grade camera mounted on a low-cost UAV to well established vegetation indices from hyperspectral field measurements for applications in grassland. The study was conducted in 2014 on the Rengen Grassland Experiment (RGE) in Germany. Image DN values were calibrated into reflectance by using the Empirical Line Method (Smith & Milton 1999). Depending on sampling date and VI the correlation between the UAV-based RGBVI and VIs such as the NDVI resulted in varying R2 values from no correlation to up to 0.9. These results indicate, that calibrated RGB-based VIs have the potential to support or substitute hyperspectral field measurements to facilitate management decisions on grasslands.