This study presents techniques based on the use of fluorescent quinine as a visual tracer for surface flows, to assess surface flow velocities in channels and streams under low luminosity conditions. Fieldwork was conducted in three open channels, with different hydraulic characteristics. A quinine solution, in both liquid and solid (ice cube) forms, was applied on the water flow surface and an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) was used to record the movement of the fluorescent quinine. The results were compared to the velocities estimated using the thermal tracer technique and flowmeter-based velocity maps. The findings show that the quinine solution, in both liquid and solid forms, can be used to estimate open-channel surface flow velocities under low luminosity conditions. While the solid form of the quinine tracer was applied in a smaller volume than the liquid tracer, its fluorescence effect persisted longer. By comparison, the liquid tracer had the advantage of continual availability and was devoid of the constraint of melting.

  • Using a UAS for surface flow velocity measurements can improve data recording in hard-to-reach survey sites.

  • The new quinine-based tracer allows us to observe the spatiotemporal water movement in open channels and to estimate surface flow velocities under low luminosity conditions.

  • Quinine tracer has high visibility under UVA light in low luminosity conditions.

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