A Hybrid of Optical Remote Sensing and Hydrological Modeling Improves Water Balance Estimation

Colin J. Gleason, Yoshihide Wada, Jida Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Declining gauging infrastructure and fractious water politics have decreased available information about river flows globally. Remote sensing and water balance modeling are frequently cited as potential solutions, but these techniques largely rely on these same in-decline gauge data to make accurate discharge estimates. A different approach is therefore needed, and we here combine remotely sensed discharge estimates made via at-many-stations hydraulic geometry (AMHG) and the PCR-GLOBWB hydrological model to estimate discharge over the Lower Nile. Specifically, we first estimate initial discharges from 87 Landsat images and AMHG (1984–2015), and then use these flow estimates to tune the model, all without using gauge data. The resulting tuned modeled hydrograph shows a large improvement in flow magnitude: validation of the tuned monthly hydrograph against a historical gauge (1978–1984) yields an RMSE of 439 m3/s (40.8%). By contrast, the original simulation had an order-of-magnitude flow error. This improvement is substantial but not perfect: tuned flows have a 1–2 month wet season lag and a negative base flow bias. Accounting for this 2 month lag yields a hydrograph RMSE of 270 m3/s (25.7%). Thus, our results coupling physical models and remote sensing is a promising first step and proof of concept toward future modeling of ungauged flows, especially as developments in cloud computing for remote sensing make our method easily applicable to any basin. Finally, we purposefully do not offer prescriptive solutions for Nile management, and rather hope that the methods demonstrated herein can prove useful to river stakeholders in managing their own water.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-17
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-09-18

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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