Estimating discharge from inundation imagery
Neal, J. C., Schumann, G. J.-P., Bates, P. D. and Mason, D. C. (2010) Estimating discharge from inundation imagery. In: American Geophysical Union (Fall Meeting), 13-17 December 2010, San Francisco. (Unpublished)
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Remote sensing from space-borne platforms is often seen as an appealing method of monitoring components of the hydrological cycle, including river discharge, due to its spatial coverage. However, data from these platforms is often less than ideal because the geophysical properties of interest are rarely measured directly and the measurements that are taken can be subject to significant errors. This study assimilated water levels derived from a TerraSAR-X synthetic aperture radar image and digital aerial photography with simulations from a two dimensional hydraulic model to estimate discharge, inundation extent, depths and velocities at the confluence of the rivers Severn and Avon, UK. An ensemble Kalman filter was used to assimilate spot heights water levels derived by intersecting shorelines from the imagery with a digital elevation model. Discharge was estimated from the ensemble of simulations using state augmentation and then compared with gauge data. Assimilating the real data reduced the error between analyzed mean water levels and levels from three gauging stations to less than 0.3 m, which is less than typically found in post event water marks data from the field at these scales. Measurement bias was evident, but the method still provided a means of improving estimates of discharge for high flows where gauge data are unavailable or of poor quality. Posterior estimates of discharge had standard deviations between 63.3 m3s-1 and 52.7 m3s-1, which were below 15% of the gauged flows along the reach. Therefore, assuming a roughness uncertainty of 0.03-0.05 and no model structural errors discharge could be estimated by the EnKF with accuracy similar to that arguably expected from gauging stations during flood events. Quality control prior to assimilation, where measurements were rejected for being in areas of high topographic slope or close to tall vegetation and trees, was found to be essential. The study demonstrates the potential, but also the significant limitations of currently available imagery to reduce discharge uncertainty in un-gauged or poorly gauged basins when combined with model simulations in a data assimilation framework.