water body characterization with drones

mapEO provides a processing workflow in the cloud for aerial drone images visualizing water bodies like a river, lake or sea. mapEO water assists you to obtain georeferenced images with corrected quantitative values representative for the water column. This allows to derive information such as, but not limited to, turbidity or chlorophyll concentrations.

The water case has some specific challenges that need to be tackled to characterize the water column. Some of these issues are listed below:

  • Water bodies often look dark on images due to a relatively low signal-to-noise ratio.
  • The interaction of the light with the atmosphere just above the water surface plays a major role (sky glint). Luckily, this can be modelled through a modified version of VITO’s atmospheric correction algorithm iCOR (iCOR4Drones).
  • The water surface acts as a mirror (sun glint). Therefore, a well-adapted flight protocol and hardware setup is indispensable.
  • The water column is often a dynamic environment subjected to e.g. current or tide resulting in a rapidly changing scene under investigation.


georeferenced products and hardware setups

You can obtain georeferenced products such as:

  • Water-leaving reflectance (intermediate product)
  • Turbidity
  • Suspended sediments
  • Chlorophyll

mapEO water also supports a series of hardware setups:

  • DJI Phantom 4 with standard RGB camera
  • DJI Phantom 4 with MicaSense RedEdge M
  • Altura Zenith ATX8 with MicaSense RedEdge M
  • Airobot Z-mapper with MicaSense RedEdge M (soming soon)
  • DJI Matrice 200 with standard RGB camera (coming soon)
  • DJI Matrice 200 with MicaSense RedEdge M (coming soon)

Over the past years, VITO remote sensing built up an expertise in water body characterization from drones through different research projects supported by Belspo (DroneSED) and the European Commission H2020 program (MONOCLE).

Are you interested to learn more about the value of the output of mapEO water? Contact us to see if we can setup a test campaign to demonstrate how mapEO can support your projects.



  • Mapping water quality with drones - test case in Texel
    De Keukelaere, L., Moelans, R. Strackx, S., Knaeps, E., Lemey, E. 2019. Mapping water quality with drones - Test case in Texel. Terra et Aqua, 157, 6 - 16.

    Read the full paper in 'Terra et Aqua', IADC's quarterly publication.

    Liesbeth De Keukelaere received the IADC Young Author Award for co-authoring of this research paper at the CEDA Dredging Days 2019. Click here for more information about this award.