Articles | Volume 22, issue 2
Research article
27 Feb 2018
Research article |  | 27 Feb 2018

Informing a hydrological model of the Ogooué with multi-mission remote sensing data

Cecile M. M. Kittel, Karina Nielsen, Christian Tøttrup, and Peter Bauer-Gottwein

Abstract. Remote sensing provides a unique opportunity to inform and constrain a hydrological model and to increase its value as a decision-support tool. In this study, we applied a multi-mission approach to force, calibrate and validate a hydrological model of the ungauged Ogooué river basin in Africa with publicly available and free remote sensing observations. We used a rainfall–runoff model based on the Budyko framework coupled with a Muskingum routing approach. We parametrized the model using the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission digital elevation model (SRTM DEM) and forced it using precipitation from two satellite-based rainfall estimates, FEWS-RFE (Famine Early Warning System rainfall estimate) and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) 3B42 v.7, and temperature from ECMWF ERA-Interim. We combined three different datasets to calibrate the model using an aggregated objective function with contributions from (1) historical in situ discharge observations from the period 1953–1984 at six locations in the basin, (2) radar altimetry measurements of river stages by Envisat and Jason-2 at 12 locations in the basin and (3) GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) total water storage change (TWSC). Additionally, we extracted CryoSat-2 observations throughout the basin using a Sentinel-1 SAR (synthetic aperture radar) imagery water mask and used the observations for validation of the model. The use of new satellite missions, including Sentinel-1 and CryoSat-2, increased the spatial characterization of river stage. Throughout the basin, we achieved good agreement between observed and simulated discharge and the river stage, with an RMSD between simulated and observed water amplitudes at virtual stations of 0.74 m for the TRMM-forced model and 0.87 m for the FEWS-RFE-forced model. The hydrological model also captures overall total water storage change patterns, although the amplitude of storage change is generally underestimated. By combining hydrological modeling with multi-mission remote sensing from 10 different satellite missions, we obtain new information on an otherwise unstudied basin. The proposed model is the best current baseline characterization of hydrological conditions in the Ogooué in light of the available observations.

Short summary
In this study, we integrate free, global Earth observations in a user-friendly and flexible model to reliably characterize an otherwise unmonitored river basin. The proposed model is the best baseline characterization of the Ogooué basin in light of available observations. Furthermore, the study shows the potential of using new, publicly available Earth observations and a suitable model structure to obtain new information in poorly monitored or remote areas and to support user requirements.