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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.

  27 Oct 2020

27 Oct 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Evaluation of Historic and Operational Satellite Radar Altimetry Missions for Constructing Consistent Long-term Lake Water Level Records

Song Shu1, Hongxing Liu2, Richard A. Beck3, Frédéric Frappart4, Johanna Korhonen5, Minxuan Lan3, Min Xu6, Bo Yang7, and Yan Huang8 Song Shu et al.
  • 1Department of Geography and Planning, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608, USA
  • 2Department of Geography, the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, USA
  • 3Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45221, USA
  • 4Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (LEGOS), UMR 5566, CNRS/IRD/UPS, OMP, 14 Avenue Édouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse, France
  • 5Finnish Environment Institute, SYKE, Freshwater Center, Latokartanonkaari 11, 00790 Helsinki, Finland
  • 6College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
  • 7Department of Sociology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816, USA
  • 8Key Lab. of Geographical Information Science, Ministry of Education, School of Geographical Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200241, China

Abstract. Thirteen satellite missions have been launched since 1985, with different types of radar altimeters onboard. This study intends to make a comprehensive evaluation of historic and currently operational satellite radar altimetry missions for lake water level retrieval over the same set of lakes and to develop a strategy for constructing consistent long-term water level records for inland lakes at global scale. The lake water level estimates produced by different retracking algorithms (retrackers) of the satellite missions were compared with the gauge measurements over twelve lakes in four countries. The performance of each retracker was assessed in terms of the data missing rate, the correlation coefficient r, the bias, and the Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) between the altimetry-derived lake water level estimates and the concurrent gauge measurements. The results show that the model-free retrackers (e.g. OCOG/Ice-1/Ice) outperform the model-based retrackers for all missions, particularly over small lakes. Among the satellite altimetry missions, Sentinel-3 gave the best results, followed by SARAL. ENVISat has slightly better lake water level estimates than Jason-1 and -2, but its data missing rate is higher. For small lakes, ERS-1 and ERS-2 missions provided more accurate lake water level estimates than Topex/Poseidon mission. In contrast, for large lakes Topex/Poseidon is a better option due to its lower data missing rate and shorter repeat cycle. GeoSat and GeoSat Follow-On (GFO) both have extremely high data missing rate. Although several contemporary radar altimetry missions provide more accurate lake level estimates than GFO, GeoSat was the sole radar altimetry mission between 1985 and 1990 that provided the lake water level estimates. With a full consideration of the performance and the operational duration, the best strategy for constructing long-term lake water level records should be a two-step bias correction and normalization procedure. In the first step, use Jason-2 as the initial reference to estimate the systematic biases with Topex/Poseidon, Jason-1 and Jason-3 and then normalize them to form a consistent Topex/Poseidon-Jason series. Then, use Topex/Poseidon-Jason series as the reference to estimate and remove systematic biases with other radar altimetry missions to construct consistent long-term lake water level series for ungauged lakes.

Song Shu et al.

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Song Shu et al.

Song Shu et al.


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