Professional Applications
Kite Aerial Photography

James S. Aber


Many enthusiasts pursue kite aerial photography (KAP) mainly as a sport and a means to acquire unique images. For example, the Canadian postage stamp (above) displays a kite aerial photograph of a rocky shoreline scene--a most unusual geologic view of fractured basement rock.

KAP has developed a more serious side in recent years, with applications in science, engineering, and other professions. Low-height, large-scale aerial photography is often necessary for mapping and resource surveys in situations where conventional air photos would be difficult, costly, or dangerous to obtain. KAP has proven valuable for environmental site assessment (Aber et al. 1999). The following examples illustrate some of these modern applications.

KAP agricultural applications.

Kite aerial photographs are often taken in conjunction with use of GPS (global positioning system) for locating survey markers on the ground. Such images may be digitally resampled into map coordinates or viewed in stereopairs to give a 3-dimensional impression of the ground. This approach is especially useful for geomorphology, which is the study of landforms. The following example illustrates an application of KAP for investigation of small erosional channels.

Ninnescah KAP Project

The Ninnescah Research Station and Natural History Area is operated by Wichita State University. It is located adjacent to the Ninnescah River near Wichita, Kansas. The site is underlain by Permian bedrock of the Ninnescah Shale--red and gray shale with thin limestone beds. This bedrock lies near the surface and is exposed in stream channels and banks. A thin cover of loess and alluvial soil covers most of the surface. Much of the terrain is subject to flooding and has many marshes, terraces, channels and other fluvial landforms.

The present geomorphology of the natural area is a result of downcutting and migration of the Ninnescah River. Significant channel lowering (at least 2 m) has taken place within the last 60 years, and local tributaries have responded by entrenching their channels. Management of the natural area is designed to restore native prairie vegetation and to create marsh and wetland habitats within small tributary valleys of the Ninnescah River.

Site topo map and station overview.

The objective the project was to collect kite aerial photographs that will be used for large-scale mapping of fluvial landforms (Aber et al. 1999). The primary focus was a small tributary basin south of the Ninnescah River. This tributary has entrenched channels, meanders, potholes, and other erosional features that display complex geometry. The following KAP procedures were utilized.

Field results--oblique views.
Field results--vertical views.

Vertical photographs were selected for digital processing. This processing included scanning the original color film and resampling the digital image based on survey point coordinates. Image pairs were joined together to create mosaics of the stream-channel system. The resulting resolution of images is 10 cm (each pixel is 10x10 cm) with a positional accuracy of ± 1 meter (3 feet).

Digital results--concat mosaics.

Related Subjects


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Last update: Jan. 2008.