• hydrology;
  • remote sensing;
  • river;
  • synthetic aperture radar


The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite mission will provide global, space-based estimates of water elevation, its temporal change, and its spatial slope in fluvial environments, as well as across lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, and floodplains. This paper illustrates the utility of existing remote sensing measurements of water temporal changes and spatial slope to characterize two complex fluvial environments. First, repeat-pass interferometric SAR measurements from the Japanese Earth Resources Satellite are used to compare and contrast floodplain processes in the Amazon and Congo River basins. Measurements of temporal water level changes over the two areas reveal clearly different hydraulic processes at work. The Amazon is highly interconnected by floodplain channels, resulting in complex flow patterns. In contrast, the Congo does not show similar floodplain channels and the flow patterns are not well defined and have diffuse boundaries. During inundation, the Amazon floodplain often shows sharp hydraulic changes across floodplain channels. The Congo, however, does not show similar sharp changes during either infilling or evacuation. Second, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission measurements of water elevation are used to derive water slope over the braided Brahmaputra river system. In combination with in situ bathymetry measurements, water elevation and slope allow one to calculate discharge estimates within 2.3% accuracy. These two studies illustrate the utility of satellite-based measurements of water elevation for characterizing complex fluvial environments, and highlight the potential of SWOT measurements for fluvial hydrology. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.