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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Parlier, California » San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center » Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #365842

Research Project: Develop Water Management Strategies to Sustain Water Productivity and Protect Water Quality in Irrigated Agriculture

Location: Water Management Research

Title: Evapotranspiration estimation with small UAVs in precision agriculture: A Review

item NIU, HAOYU - University Of California
item HOLLENBECK, DEREK - University Of California
item ZHAO, TIEBIAO - University Of California
item Wang, Dong
item CHEN, YANGQUAN - University Of California

Submitted to: Sensors
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/9/2020
Publication Date: 11/10/2020
Citation: Niu, H., Hollenbeck, D., Zhao, T., Wang, D., Chen, Y. 2020. Evapotranspiration estimation with small UAVs in precision agriculture: A Review. Sensors. 20(20):6427.

Interpretive Summary: Crop evapotranspiration (ET) is an important metric for irrigation water management and spatial assessment of ET using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones is less understood than other traditional methods. In this paper, both challenges and opportunities of ET estimation using UAVs are discussed, with focuses on both the flight platforms and the choice of lightweight cameras and sensors. Examples are provided for crops with clumped canopies that would require higher spatial resolutions than images collected using satellites or manned-airplanes. The study should provide a useful guide on applying UAVs for crop management, especially for high-valued tree or vine crops.

Technical Abstract: Estimating evapotranspiration (ET) has been one of the most important research in agriculture recently because of water scarcity, growing population, and climate change. ET is the sum of evaporation from the soil and transpiration from the crops to the atmosphere. The accurate estimation and mapping of ET are necessary for crop water management. Traditionally, people use weighing lysimeters, Bowen ratio, eddy covariance and many other methods to estimate ET. However, these ET methods are points or location-specific measurements and cannot be extended to a large scale of ET estimation. With the advent of satellites technology, remote sensing images can provide spatially distributed measurements. The satellites multispectral images spatial resolution, however, is in the range of meters, which is often not enough for crops with clumped canopy structure such as trees and vines. And, the timing or frequency of satellites overpass is not always enough to meet the research or water management needs. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, can help solve these spatial and temporal challenges. Lightweight cameras and sensors can be mounted on drones and take high-resolution images on a large scale of field. Compared with satellites images, the spatial resolution of UAVs’ images can be as high as 1 cm per pixel. And, people can fly a drone at any time if the weather condition is good. Cloud cover is less of a concern than satellite remote sensing. Both temporal and spatial resolution is highly improved by drones. In this paper, a review of different UAVs based approaches of ET estimations are presented. Different modified models used by UAVs, such as Mapping Evapotranspiration at high Resolution with Internalized Calibration (METRIC), Two-source energy balance (TSEB) model, etc, are also discussed.