Task 115

The Global Reservoir and Lake Monitoring System: Enhancing the USDA/FAS DSS with NASA, NRL and ESA Satellite Radar Altimeter Data

Principal Investigator(s):

C. Birkett (ESSIC/UMD)


C. Peters-Lidard

Last Updated:

October 26, 2012 15:25:26

Description of Problem

This program aims to enhance and expand a satellite-based, near-real time, reservoir and lake water-level monitoring system. This system is on-line, operational, existing within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) decision support system (DSS) through the cooperative USDA/NASA Global Agricultural Monitoring (GLAM) program. Current lake level products stem from the NASA/CNES TOPEX/Poseidon (archival 1992-2002), Jason-1 (post 2002 and near real time), Jason-2/OSTM (post 2008) missions, the US Naval Research Lab’s GFO (post 2000) mission, and the current ESA ENVISAT (post 2002) mission. The primary user is the Office of Global Analysis (OGA) within the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). The FAS utilize the products for irrigation potential considerations and as general indicators of drought and high-water conditions. The monitoring system thus has relevance to water resources management and agriculture efficiency applications at both the national and international level.

Scientific Objectives and Approach

Our specific objectives are:

To improve the quality and quantity of the historical water level products.

To extend the period of observations to 20years or greater, with near real time products derived from the NASA/CNES Jason-2/OSTM mission.

To increase, by at least a factor of 5, the number of targets in the current system via the inclusion of ESA ERS-1, ERS-2 (1994-2002) , and ENVISAT (post 2002) data. This greatly enhances the DSS, in particular by the inclusion of a large number of smaller reservoirs (100-300km2), and additionally provides a means to validate the current NASA/NRL products in regions where ground-based gauge data cannot be acquired.

With combined NASA/USDA support, continue the operational system with both NASA/CNES Jason-2 and ISRO/CNES SARAL (launch mid-2011) near real time products.

To provide an updated systems engineering report, which includes both an evaluation study and the results of the verification and validation exercises. The system is being benchmarked, where the overall value of the enhanced and expanded products to the USDA/FAS are recorded. An outline of the technical issues will be given and system requirements re-examined.

This project utilizes NASA Earth Science products in a USDA decision support tool that primarily supports agricultural efficiency. The program is a collaborative effort between the USDA, ESSIC/University of Maryland, NASA/GSFC and SGT Inc. and runs parallel with a project running under a NASA grant award to UMD/ESSIC (NNX08AM72G, 5-26398 PI: Birkett). The accomplishments listed here are combined results.


Accomplishments this past year have included the creation of preliminary ENVISAT lake level products that went out on-line at the USDA GRLM web site at the end of 2011. Currently ~80 ENVISAT targets are displayed there with the intention of adding several hundred more as 2012 progresses. The new products are significant in that they increase the water resources database the USDA Foreign Resource Analysts utilize in their irrigation planning and crop management.

Refereed Journal Publications

C. Birkett and J-F. Cretaux, ‘Lake Levels’, in State of the Climate in 2010, Chapter 2. Global Climate, Section 3 Hydrological cycle, book editors J. Blunden, D.S. Arndt and M.O. Baringer, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 92(6), 53-54, June 2011.

Ricko, M., J., J. Carton, and C.M. Birkett, Climatic Effects on Lake Basins. Part I: Modeling Tropical Lake Levels, Journal of Climate, 24, pp.2983-2999, 2011.c

Other Publications and Conferences

Birkett et al., IRSRE conference in Sydney, Australia, April 2011

Birkett et al., NASA/GSFC invited seminar in Maryland, May 2011

Birkett et al., NASA/CNES OSTM PI’s meeting in San Diego, October 2011

Gao H., D.P. Lettenmaier, and C.M. Birkett, Global Monitoring of large reservoir storage from satellite remote sensing, 2011, Fall AGU, H11K-07.

Task Figures

Fig. 1 – Preliminary (ENV.1.4) ENVISAT lake level product for Lake Angostura. Graph shows raw (top) and smoothed (bottom) relative lake level variations for the 2002-2010 period derived from the ESA ENVISAT mission. This large reservoir produces hydroelectric power on the Grijalva River in Mexico.