Global monitoring of large reservoir storage from satellite remote sensing Academic Article uri icon


  • We studied 34 global reservoirs for which good quality surface elevation data could be obtained from a combination of five satellite altimeters for the period from 1992 to 2010. For each of these reservoirs, we used an unsupervised classification approach using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) 16-day 250 m vegetation product to estimate the surface water areas over the MODIS period of record (2000 to 2010). We then derived elevation-area relationships for each of the reservoirs by combining the MODIS-based estimates with satellite altimeter-based estimates of reservoir water elevations. Through a combination of direct observations of elevation and surface area along with documented reservoir configurations at capacity, we estimated storage time histories for each reservoir from 1992 to 2010. We evaluated these satellite-based data products in comparison with gauge observations for the five largest reservoirs in the United States (Lakes Mead, Powell, Sakakawea, Oahe, and Fort Peck Reservoir). The storage estimates were highly correlated with observations (R = 0.92 to 0.99), with values for the normalized root mean square error (NRMSE) ranging from 3% to 15%. The storage mean absolute error (expressed as a percentage of reservoir capacity) for the reservoirs in this study was 4%. The multidecadal reconstructed reservoir storage variations are in accordance with known droughts and high flow periods on each of the five continents represented in the data set. 2012. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

published proceedings

  • Water Resources Research

author list (cited authors)

  • Gao, H., Birkett, C., & Lettenmaier, D. P.

citation count

  • 217

complete list of authors

  • Gao, Huilin||Birkett, Charon||Lettenmaier, Dennis P

publication date

  • September 2012