Sentinel-3 radar altimetry for river monitoring - A catchment-scale evaluation of satellite water surface elevation from Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B

Cecile Marie Margaretha Kittel*, Liguang Jiang, Christian Tøttrup, Peter Bauer-Gottwein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

10 Downloads (Pure)


Sentinel-3 is the first satellite altimetry mission to operate both in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mode and in open-loop tracking mode nearly globally. Both features are expected to improve the ability of the altimeters to observe inland water bodies. Additionally, the two-satellite constellation offers a unique compromise between spatial and temporal resolution with over 65 000 potential water targets sensed globally. In this study, we evaluate the possibility of extracting river water surface elevation (WSE) at catchment level from Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B radar altimetry using Level-1b and Level-2 data from two public platforms: the Copernicus Open Access Hub (SciHub) and Grid Processing on Demand (GPOD). The objectives of the study are to demonstrate that by using publicly available processing platforms, such databases can be created to suit specific study areas for any catchment and with a wide range of applications in hydrology. We select the Zambezi River as a study area. In the Zambezi basin, 156 virtual stations (VSs) contain useful WSE information in both datasets. The root-mean-square deviation (RMSD) is between 2.9 and 31.3 cm at six VSs, where in situ data are available, and all VSs reflect the observed WSE climatology throughout the basin. Some VSs are exclusive to either the SciHub or GPOD datasets, highlighting the value of considering multiple processing options beyond global altimetry-based WSE databases. In particular, we show that the processing options available on GPOD affect the number of useful VSs; specifically, extending the size of the receiving window considerably improved data at 13 Sentinel-3 VSs. This was largely related to the implementation of GPOD parameters. While correct on-board elevation information is crucial, the postprocessing options must be adapted to handle the steep changes in the receiving window position. Finally, we extract Sentinel-3 observations over key wetlands in the Zambezi basin. We show that clear seasonal patterns are captured in the Sentinel-3 WSE, reflecting flooding events in the floodplains. These results highlight the benefit of the high spatiotemporal resolution of the dual-satellite constellation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)333-357
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Sentinel-3 radar altimetry for river monitoring - A catchment-scale evaluation of satellite water surface elevation from Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this