The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission will measure water surface elevations and inundation extents of rivers of the world but with limited temporal sampling. By comparing flood location and duration of 4,664 past flood events recorded by the Dartmouth Flood Observatory to SWOT's orbit ephemeris, we estimate that SWOT would have seen 55% of these, with higher probabilities associated with more extreme events and with those that displaced more than 10,000 people. However, SWOT measurements will exhibit uneven temporal sampling and may require a combination of data obtained at different times to accurately characterize large events. This is illustrated using recent flooding in the United States, in eastern Iowa and in Houston and surrounding areas from Hurricane Harvey. SWOT data have significant potential to improve flood forecasting models by offering data needed to enhance flow routing modeling, provided that users can overcome the potential hurdles associated with its temporal and spatial sampling characteristics.
- flood observations
- remote sensing