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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  15 May 2020

15 May 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Sentinel-3 radar altimetry for river monitoring – a catchment-scale evaluation of satellite water surface elevation from Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B

Cecile M. M. Kittel1, Liguang Jiang1, Christian Tøttrup2, and Peter Bauer-Gottwein1 Cecile M. M. Kittel et al.
  • 1Department of Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Technical University of Denmark, Kgs. Lyngby, 2800, Denmark
  • 2DHI-GRAS, Hørsholm, 2970, Denmark

Abstract. Sentinel-3 is the first satellite altimeter to operate in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) mode and in open-loop tracking mode nearly globally. Both features are expected to improve the ability of the altimeters to observe inland water bodies. In this study we evaluate the possibility to extract river water surface elevation (WSE) at catchment level from Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B radar altimetry, using Level-1b and Level-2 data from two public platforms. The objectives of the study are to evaluate the density of valuable observations and establish a WSE monitoring network. Additionally, we demonstrate the potential application of Sentinel-3 for monitoring river interactions with wetlands and floodplains. In the Zambezi basin, 175 virtual stations (VS) contain useful WSE information in both datasets, far exceeding the number of VS available in standard databases. The RMSD is between 2.7 cm and 31.2 cm at six in-situ stations and the VS reflect the observed WSE climatology throughout the basin. Additional VS are available in both the Copernicus Open Access Hub and GPOD (Grid Processing on Demand), highlighting the value of considering multiple processing options. In particular, we show that the processing options available on GPOD strongly affect the number of useful VS; in particular, extending the size of the receiving window, considerably improved data at 13 Sentinel-3 VS. The number of VS delivering usable data increased after the Open-Loop Tracking Command (OLTC) on-board Sentinel-3A was updated. However, the open-loop tracking mode poses two new challenges: correct on-board elevation information is crucial, and steep changes in the receiving window position can have detrimental effects on the WSE observations. Finally, we extract Sentinel-3 observations over key wetlands in the Zambezi basin. We show that clear seasonal patterns are captured in the Sentinel-3 WSE, reflecting flooding events in the floodplains. These results highlight the potential of using Sentinel-3 as a SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) surrogate while awaiting the mission launch. The results show the benefit of the high-resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) altimeter, as well as the benefits and disadvantages of the open-loop tracking mode.

Cecile M. M. Kittel et al.

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Cecile M. M. Kittel et al.

Cecile M. M. Kittel et al.


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Latest update: 28 Sep 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
In poorly instrumented catchments, satellite altimetry offers a unique possibility to obtain water level observations. Improvements in instrument design have increased the capabilities of altimeters to observe inland water bodies, including rivers. In this study, we demonstrate how a dense Sentinel-3 water surface elevation monitoring network can be established at catchment-scale using publicly accessible processing platforms. The network can serve as a useful supplement to ground observations.
In poorly instrumented catchments, satellite altimetry offers a unique possibility to obtain...