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Satellite remote sensing of large lakes and reservoirs: from elevation and area to storage

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The majority of liquid surface freshwater globally is stored in large lakes and reservoirs. However, consistent observations of lakes and reservoirs are very limited, which makes it challenging to assess the surface water effect on global weather forecasting, earth system modeling, water management planning, and ecosystem sustainability. The advance of satellite remote sensing has offered a unique opportunity for monitoring large lakes and reservoirs from space. This article provides a comprehensive review of the satellite remote sensing approaches for estimating lake/reservoir elevations, areas, and storage variations. These include: (1) measuring surface water elevations using radar and laser altimeters; (2) estimating lake/reservoir areas using threshold‐based and image classification‐based approaches at visible and/or near infrared frequencies; and (3) combining elevation and area information to infer storage and storage variations. Different algorithms (as well as satellite sensors) applicable for these purposes are compared in terms of their advantages and limitations. Future direction and opportunities for more comprehensive data products with improved spatial and temporal resolutions are discussed. WIREs Water 2015, 2:147–157. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1065 This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Hydrological Processes
Locations of the large lakes and reservoirs where radar altimetry based elevations are provided by the CNES and USDA databases. A total of 274 lakes and reservoirs are reported on between the two databases (166 by CNES, 193 by USDA, and 85 overlap).
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(a) Conceptual view of the SWOT mission and (b) cumulative global lake storage change. (Reprinted with permission from Ref. (published by IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing (J‐STARS)).
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Comparisons of remotely sensed elevations with observed data over the Pong reservoir in India. Courtesy of Hyongki Lee for providing the Envisat data. The remaining data are from ref , which is publicly available.
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