Patterns of remotely sensed floodplain saturation and its use in runoff predictions

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Abstract

Principal components analysis (PCA) is applied to a time series of European Remote Sensing (ERS) synthetic aperture radar (SAR) scenes of the Alzette River floodplain (Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg). These images cover markedly different hydrological conditions during several winter seasons in order to enable the examination of the decrease of the radar backscattering signal during drying-up phases following important flood events. At the floodplain scale, with homogeneous land use and constant topography, the first principal components (PCs) are mainly dominated by the variance related to the changing areas. The PCs are thus mainly controlled by subsurface and surface water dynamics. The field observations of a densely equipped piezometric network in the floodplain are used to calculate a mean soil saturation index (SSI) continuously. A classification scheme, based on the PCs and k-means algorithm, leads to the segmentation of the floodplain into several hydrological behaviour classes with distinctive responses versus changing moisture conditions. To validate this classification method with ground-based estimations, the relation between the mean backscattering values of microplots within each PCA-derived hydrological class and the water table measurements, expressed by means of the SSI, is evaluated. Results show that each class of microplots is characterized by the slope of the ‘backscattering-SSI’ function and by the SSI threshold value at which groundwater resurgence appears. The water ponding implies very low signal return due to the specular backscattering effect on the water surface. Based on established relationships between measured initial water table depths, runoff coefficients and rainfall-induced water table rises, these results are used to discuss the potential of SAR-derived information in flood management applications.

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