Automatic near real-time selection of flood water levels from high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar images for assimilation into hydraulic models: A case study

D. C. Mason*, G. J. -P. Schumann, J. C. Neal, J. Garcia-Pintado, P. D. Bates

*Corresponding author for this work

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

60 Citations (Scopus)


Flood extents caused by fluvial floods in urban and rural areas may be predicted by hydraulic models. Assimilation may be used to correct the model state and improve the estimates of the model parameters or external forcing. One common observation assimilated is the water level at various points along the modelled reach. Distributed water levels may be estimated indirectly along the flood extents in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images by intersecting the extents with the floodplain topography. It is necessary to select a subset of levels for assimilation because adjacent levels along the flood extent will be strongly correlated. A method for selecting such a subset automatically and in near real-time is described, which would allow the SAR water levels to be used in a forecasting model. The method first selects candidate waterline points in flooded rural areas having low slope. The waterline levels and positions are corrected for the effects of double reflections between the water surface and emergent vegetation at the flood edge. Waterline points are also selected in flooded urban areas away from radar shadow and layover caused by buildings, with levels similar to those in adjacent rural areas. The resulting points are thinned to reduce spatial autocorrelation using a top-down clustering approach. The method was developed using a TerraSAR-X image from a particular case study involving urban and rural flooding. The waterline points extracted proved to be spatially uncorrelated, with levels reasonably similar to those determined manually from aerial photographs, and in good agreement with those of nearby gauges. (c) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-716
Number of pages12
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


  • Flood detection
  • Water level
  • Synthetic aperture radar
  • Assimilation
  • Hydraulic modelling

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