Estimation of discharge from three braided rivers using synthetic aperture radar satellite imagery: Potential application to ungaged basins

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Analysis of 41 ERS 1 synthetic aperture radar images and simultaneous ground measurements of discharge for three large braided rivers indicates that the area of active flow on braided river floodplains is primarily a function of discharge. A power law correlation is found between satellite- derived effective width W(e) and discharge Q, where W(e) is the water surface area within a braided reach divided by the reach length. Synthetic values of W(e) and Q generated from a cellular automata model of stream braiding display a similar power law correlation. Power functions that are fit through plots of W(e) and Q represent satellite-derived rating curves that can subsequently be used to estimate instantaneous river discharge from space, with errors ranging from tens to hundreds of cubic meters per second. For ungaged rivers, changes in relative discharge can be determined from satellite data alone to determine the shape and timing of annual flows in glacierized basins. Absolute discharge can probably be estimated within a factor of 2. More accurate estimates will require either (1) one or more ground measurements of discharge acquired simultaneously with a satellite image acquisition, or (2) successful parameterization of known morphologic controls such as total sinuosity ΣP, valley slope, bank material and stability, and braid channel hydraulic geometry. Values of total sinuosity ΣP derived from satellite imagery and field measurements from two rivers of braid channel width, depth, velocity, water surface slope, and bed material grain size indicate that while the shape of satellite-derived W(e)-Q rating curves may be influenced by all of these variables, the sensitivity of flow area to changing discharge is most dependent upon the degree of braiding. Efforts to monitor river discharge from space will be most successful for intensely braided rivers with high values of total sinuosity. Subsampling of existing daily discharge records from the Iskut River suggests that satellite return times of about 1 week are sufficient for approximating the shape and timing of the seasonal hydrograph in large, glacierized basins. Although errors are large, the presented technique represents the only currently available way to estimate discharge in ungauged braided rivers.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Smith, LC; Isacks, BL; Bloom, AL; Murray, AB

Published Date

  • July 1, 1996

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 32 / 7

Start / End Page

  • 2021 - 2034

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0043-1397

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1029/96WR00752

Citation Source

  • Scopus