Analyzing the discharge regime of a large tropical river through remote sensing, ground-based climatic data, and modeling

Authors

  • Charles J. Vörösmarty,

  • Cort J. Willmott,

  • Bhaskar J. Choudhury,

  • Annette L. Schloss,

  • Timothy K. Stearns,

  • Scott M. Robeson,

  • Timothy J. Dorman


Abstract

This study demonstrates the potential for applying passive microwave satellite sensor data to infer the discharge dynamics of large river systems using the main stem Amazon as a test case. The methodology combines (1) interpolated ground-based meteorological station data, (2) horizontally and vertically polarized temperature differences (HVPTD) from the 37-GHz scanning multichannel microwave radiometer (SMMR) aboard the Nimbus 7 satellite, and (3) a calibrated water balance/water transport model (WBM/WTM). Monthly HVPTD values at 0.25° (latitude by longitude) resolution were resampled spatially and temporally to produce an enhanced HVPTD time series at 0.5° resolution for the period May 1979 through February 1985. Enhanced HVPTD values were regressed against monthly discharge derived from the WBM/WTM for each of 40 grid cells along the main stem over a calibration period from May 1979 to February 1983 to provide a spatially contiguous estimate of time-varying discharge. HVPTD-estimated flows generated for a validation period from March 1983 to February 1985 were found to be in good agreement with both observed arid modeled discharges over a 1400-km section of the main stem Amazon. This span of river is bounded downstream by a region of tidal influence and upstream by low sensor response associated with dense forest canopy. Both the WBM/WTM and HVPTD-derived flow rates reflect the significant impact of the 1982–1983 El Niño-;Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event on water balances within the drainage basin.

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