AirSWOT measurements of river water surface elevation and slope: Tanana River, AK

Elizabeth H. Altenau*, Tamlin M. Pavelsky, Delwyn Moller, Christine Lion, Lincoln H. Pitcher, George H. Allen, Paul D. Bates, Stéphane Calmant, Michael Durand, Laurence C. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
448 Downloads (Pure)


Fluctuations in water surface elevation (WSE) along rivers have important implications for water resources, flood hazards, and biogeochemical cycling. However, current in situ and remote sensing methods exhibit key limitations in characterizing spatiotemporal hydraulics of many of the world's river systems. Here, we analyze new measurements of river WSE and slope from AirSWOT, an airborne analogue to the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission aimed at addressing limitations in current remotely sensed observations of surface water. To evaluate its capabilities, we compare AirSWOT WSEs and slopes to in situ measurements along the Tanana River, Alaska. RMSE is 9.0 cm for WSEs averaged over 1 km2 areas and 1.0 cm/km for slopes along 10 km reaches. Results indicate that AirSWOT can accurately reproduce the spatial variations in slope critical for characterizing reach-scale hydraulics. AirSWOT's high-precision measurements are valuable for hydrologic analysis, flood modeling studies, and for validating future SWOT measurements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-189
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number1
Early online date5 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2017


  • AirSWOT
  • Remote sensing
  • River channels
  • River hydrology

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