Remote sensing methods to study spatial and temporal changes in water quality using satellite or aerial imagery are limited by the inherently low reflectance signal of water across the visible and near infrared spectrum, as well as environmental variables such as surface scattering effects (sun glint), substrate and aquatic vegetation reflectance, and atmospheric effects. This study exploits the low altitude, high-resolution remote sensing capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms to examine the major environmental variables that affect water reflectance acquisition, without the confounding influence of atmospheric effects typical of higher-altitude platforms. After observation and analysis, we found: (1) multiple water spectra measured at the same location had a standard deviation of 10.4%; (2) water spectra changes associated with increasing altitude from 20 m to 100 m were negligible; (3) the difference between mean reflectance at three off-shore locations in an urban water body reached 29.9%; (4) water bottom visibility increased water reflectance by 20.1% in near shore areas compared to deep water spectra in a clear water lake; (5) emergent plants caused the water spectra to shift towards a shape that is characteristic of vegetation, whereas submerged vegetation showed limited effect on water spectra in the studied lake; (6) cloud and sun glint had major effects and caused water spectra to change abruptly; while glint and shadow effects on spectra may balance each other under certain conditions, the water reflectance can also be unpredictable at times due to wave effects and their effects on lines-of-site to calm water; (7) water spectra collected under a variety of different conditions (e.g. multiple locations, waves) resulted in weaker regression models compared to spectra collected under ideal conditions (e.g. single location, no wave), although the resulting model coefficients were relatively stable. The methods and results from this study contribute to better understanding of water reflectance acquisition using remote sensing, and can be applied in UAV-based water quality assessment or to aid in validation of higher altitude imagery.

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Keywords CDOM, Chlorophyll-a, Environmental variables, Hyperspectral data, Turbidity, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Water quality, Water reflectance
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Journal ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Zeng, C. (Chuiqing), Richardson, M, & King, D.J. (Douglas J.). (2017). The impacts of environmental variables on water reflectance measured using a lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based spectrometer system. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 130, 217–230. doi:10.1016/j.isprsjprs.2017.06.004