Potentials and limitations of Sentinel-3 for river discharge assessment

Angelica Tarpanelli*, Stefania Camici, Karina Nielsen, Luca Brocca, Tommaso Moramarco, Jérôme Benveniste

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The monitoring of rivers is not the primary objective of the Sentinel-3 mission. The first satellite of the constellation was launched in February 2016 and so far no study has investigated the joint use of altimeter, near-infrared and thermal sensors for discharge estimation. Nevertheless, similar sensors onboard other platforms have showed their ability to estimate river discharge also in scarcely gauged areas. The advantage of altimetry lies in the observation of water surface elevation, which can be proficiently used in approaches based on rating curve, empirical formulae or hydraulic modeling. Even though their use is limited, near-infrared sensors are successfully used to detect the variability of river discharge thanks to their high capacity to discriminate water from land. Thermal sensors are nearly completely unused, but the unique study that uses the difference in temperature of the river water between day and night for the estimation of water level, encourages its use for river discharge assessment as well. To improve the estimation of river discharge and foster studies that are aimed at monitoring ungauged rivers, the combination of the sensors is considered a viable path. The aim of this manuscript is to review these studies to show the limitations and the potentials of each sensor onboard the Sentinel-3 satellite and to investigate the added value of using these three sensors co-located on the same platform for river discharge monitoring.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAdvances in space research
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)593-606
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • River discharge
  • Radar altimetry
  • Inland water
  • Sentinel-3


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