Alex Rittle

Participant: PROMISE AGEP Research Symposium


Alex Rittle

Department: Geography & Environmental Systems

Institution: University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)



Mapping the River in 3-Dimensions

Rivers are a ubiquitous feature of the earth but are a challenging ecosystem to monitor. Components such as particle substrate, hydraulic properties, are difficult to monitor continuously due to the size and complexity of rivers, in addition to the complicating nature of light interaction with water. Geomorphologists and aquatic ecology desire a method that can continuously track channel geometry, water depth, and bed substrate because these largely dictate fluvial processes. Satellite data, aerial imagery, and ground survey measurements are the common means of acquiring river data. However, none of these allow for continuous, high-resolution bathymetric data that is cost-efficient. Recent studies have shown that cameras mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can be used to continuously map fluvial features at a relatively low cost and high resolution. UAVs, coupled with a computer vision technique known as Structure from Motion (SfM) has been used to reconstruct a variety of landscapes. However, riverscapes have proven more challenging due to a multitude of reasons including the dynamic nature of channelized flow, light interaction at the air-water interface, light absorption within the water, atmospheric conditions, GPS accuracy, ground control distribution, position/orientation of sensor, as well as bed composition, hydraulic roughness, depth, and turbidity. The purpose of this study is to examine spatial trends in accuracy and precision estimates of SfM-derived riverscape topography, as a function of: geospatial variables, ttmospheric conditions, land cover type, and fluvial properties.



Alex Rittle is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography and Environmental Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  His research interests are focused on a wide variety of spatial dynamics in river systems, including ecological, hydrological, and physical processes. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where he also studied aquatic insects in rivers. He received his master’s degree in geography and a certificate in stream and watershed science from the University of Kentucky. When not in the lab or office, Alex is teaching and mastering GIS, paddle boarding, practicing yoga, cheering on the Kentucky Wildcats, or dreaming about future travels. Alex is also active in the Graduate Student Association at UMBC and hopes to work in community, educational, and environmental policy upon graduation.



Alex is studying the spatial dynamics of rivers, with specific attention to the Patapsco River near Baltimore, MD. His graduate research focuses on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles as a tool to aid in three-dimensional reconstruction of river environments to better understand the geomorphology, ecology, and structure of river systems both spatially and temporally. He is also interested in the distribution of aquatic macroinvertebrates, and the various spatial factors controlling populations.



  1. Smith, Robert, Emily Neidiegh, Alex Rittle, John Wallace. Assessing macroinvertebrate community response to restoration of Big Spring Run: Expanded analysis of BACI sampling designs. River Research and Applications. Submitted September 2018


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