Articles | Volume 21, issue 2
Research article
07 Feb 2017
Research article |  | 07 Feb 2017

Application of CryoSat-2 altimetry data for river analysis and modelling

Raphael Schneider, Peter Nygaard Godiksen, Heidi Villadsen, Henrik Madsen, and Peter Bauer-Gottwein

Abstract. Availability of in situ river monitoring data, especially of data shared across boundaries, is decreasing, despite growing challenges for water resource management across the entire globe. This is especially valid for the case study of this work, the Brahmaputra Basin in South Asia. Commonly, satellite altimeters are used in various ways to provide information about such river basins. Most missions provide virtual station time series of water levels at locations where their repeat orbits cross rivers. CryoSat-2 is equipped with a new type of altimeter, providing estimates of the actual ground location seen in the reflected signal. It also uses a drifting orbit, challenging conventional ways of processing altimetry data to river water levels and their incorporation in hydrologic–hydrodynamic models. However, CryoSat-2 altimetry data provides an unprecedentedly high spatial resolution. This paper suggests a procedure to (i) filter CryoSat-2 observations over rivers to extract water-level profiles along the river, and (ii) use this information in combination with a hydrologic–hydrodynamic model to fit the simulated water levels with an accuracy that cannot be reached using information from globally available digital elevation models (DEMs) such as from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) only. The filtering was done based on dynamic river masks extracted from Landsat imagery, providing spatial and temporal resolutions high enough to map the braided river channels and their dynamic morphology. This allowed extraction of river water levels over previously unmonitored narrow stretches of the river. In the Assam Valley section of the Brahmaputra River, CryoSat-2 data and Envisat virtual station data were combined to calibrate cross sections in a 1-D hydrodynamic model of the river. The hydrologic–hydrodynamic model setup and calibration are almost exclusively based on openly available remote sensing data and other global data sources, ensuring transferability of the developed methods. They provide an opportunity to achieve forecasts of both discharge and water levels in a poorly gauged river system.

Short summary
We use water level observations from the CryoSat-2 satellite in combination with a river model of the Brahmaputra River, extracting satellite data over a dynamic river mask derived from Landsat imagery. The novelty of this work is the use of the CryoSat-2 water level observations, collected using a complex spatio-temporal sampling scheme, to calibrate a hydrodynamic river model. The resulting model accurately reproduces water levels, without precise knowledge of river bathymetry.