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Water Resources Research




American Geophysical Union

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Remote sensing of river discharge promises to augment in situ gauging stations, but the majority of research in this field focuses on large rivers (>50 m wide). We present a method for estimating volumetric river discharge in low-order (wide) rivers from remotely sensed data by coupling high-resolution imagery with one-dimensional hydraulic modeling at so-called virtual gauging stations. These locations were identified as locations where the river contracted under low flows, exposing a substantial portion of the river bed. Topography of the exposed river bed was photogrammetrically extracted from high-resolution aerial imagery while the geometry of the remaining inundated portion of the channel was approximated based on adjacent bank topography and maximum depth assumptions. Full channel bathymetry was used to create hydraulic models that encompassed virtual gauging stations. Discharge for each aerial survey was estimated with the hydraulic model by matching modeled and remotely sensed wetted widths. Based on these results, synthetic width-discharge rating curves were produced for each virtual gauging station. In situ observations were used to determine the accuracy of wetted widths extracted from imagery (mean error 0.36 m), extracted bathymetry (mean vertical RMSE 0.23 m), and discharge (mean percent error 7% with a standard deviation of 6%). Sensitivity analyses were conducted to determine the influence of inundated channel bathymetry and roughness parameters on estimated discharge. Comparison of synthetic rating curves produced through sensitivity analyses show that reasonable ranges of parameter values result in mean percent errors in predicted discharges of 12%–27%.