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 15:25:25

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), NASA/CNES Jason-1 (post 2002 and near real time), NASA/CNES Jason-2/OSTM (post 2008) and the US Naval Research Lab’s GFO (post 2000) missions. 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 (2002-2010) 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 a performance assessment of the ESA ENVISAT radar altimeter instrument over lakes and reservoirs. This has included validation case studies, both relative and absolute for designated regions around the world. Technical aspects of the product-creation and delivery system have also been reviewed and current software modified or enhanced to accommodate the handling of the ESA data sets and the prospect of ~500 lakes that need to be monitored in the near real time domain.

Other Publications and Conferences

Journal Publications:

Birkett, C.M., Reynolds, C., Beckley, B and B. Doorn, 2010: From Research to Operations: The USDA Global Reservoir and Lake Monitor, Chapter 2 in ‘Coastal Altimetry’, Springer Publications, eds. S. Vignudelli, A.G. Kostianoy, P. Cipollini and J. Benveniste, Springer Publications, ISBN 978-3-642-12795-3.

Birkett, C.M., and B. Beckley, 2010: Investigating the Performance of the Jason-2/OSTM radar altimeter over Lakes and Reservoirs, Jason-2/OSTM Special Issue, Marine Geodesy, 33(1), pp.204-238.

Becker-Reshef, I., C. Justice, M. Sullivan, E. Vermote, C. Tucker, A. Anyamba, J. Small, E. Pak, E. Masouka, J. Schmaltz, M. Hansen, K. Pittman, C. Birkett, D. Williams, C Reynolds and B. Doorn, 2010: Monitoring Global Croplands with Coarse Resolution Earth Observations: The Global Agriculture Monitoring (GLAM) Project, Journal of Remote Sensing, 2(6), pp.1589-1609; doi: 10.3390/rs2061589.

Birkett, C.M., 2010: Lake Levels, In “State of the Climate in 2009”, ed. K.M. Willett, L.V. Alexander and P.W. Thorne, within Chapter 2/Section C/Part 6 which is Global Climate/Hydrological Cycle, also as Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, July 2010, Vol. 91, pp.538-539.

Ricko, M., J. Carton, and C.M. Birkett, 2010: Climatic Effects on Lake Basins: I – Modeling Tropical Lake Levels, Journal of Climate, In press.


NASA/GSFC GLAM (Global Agriculture Monitoring) Meeting at NASA/GSFC February 16th. Invited oral presentation.

Remote Sensing and Hydrology Symposium, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Sept 27th-30th. Oral presentation.

NASA/CNES OSTM Science Working Team meeting 18-20th October, Lisbon. Poster presentation.

NASA/CNES Wide-swath altimeter applications meeting 21-22nd October, Lisbon. Oral presentation.