Stereo video imaging of water surface has become an effective instrumentation to gather wind waves 3-D data from small to medium range spatial scales. Indeed, recent applications of stereo techniques provided new insights of space-time distributions of sea wave elevations, small scale wave statistics, and directional wave spectra. Like most photogrammetric applications, an accurate calibration of the optical acquisition machinery is required to provide a low-noise, precise and reliable surface reconstruction adequate to extract meaningful wavy surfaces. However, for practical open field applications, there is a strong interest to provide a calibration procedure apt to be performed in an uncomfortable environment in which it may be unfeasible to take apart or even physically access the device.

Here, we propose a stereo pipeline suitable for 3-D wave measurements from fixed and moving platforms. In particular, within the Wave Acquisition Stereo System (WASS) framework, we contemplated a self-calibration technique for a robust estimation of the stereo extrinsic parameters, a fast dense stereo correspondence algorithm, and a two-step correction of the cameras motion. As for other applications, wave information collected by WASS includes synthetic wave parameters (e.g., significant wave height, wave periods, and directions), wavenumber and frequency-direction spectra, spatial distribution of wave elevations, heights, and lengths.

The new pipeline features has been firstly assessed by installing WASS on top of the “Acqua Alta” oceanographic tower in the northern Adriatic Sea (Italy) and comparing WASS measurements against those acquired at the tower with reference instrumentation. Afterwards, the stereo system has been mounted on board the R/V “Urania” during a cruise on April 2013 in the southern Adriatic Sea. During the cruise, to correct for ship’s motion, WASS has been synchronized to the motion unit used for the vessel’s navigation. For validation, sea wave state gathered by WASS has been compared to theoretical models and results from the numerical wave model SWAN.

Results presented show that the accuracy of 3-D waves provided by the new algorithms is comparable to that of other WASS applications, although significantly reducing the installation effort and the computational time by more than one order of magnitude. Additionally, encompassing for ship’s motion makes stereo system a perspective instrumentation for operational wave measuring from research and opportunity vessels. The manuscript is completed by a discussion on the limitations and troubleshooting related to the proposed pipeline.

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