Combining Imagery and Models to Understand River Dynamics

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Cheryl Ann Blain, Naval Research Laboratory, Stennis Space Center, MS, United States, Richard P Mied, Naval Research Lab DC, Washington, DC, United States and Robert S Linzell, QinetiQ North America, Inc., Stennis Space Center, MS, United States
Rivers pose one of the most challenging environments to characterize. Their geometric complexity and continually changing position and character are difficult to measure under optimal circumstances. Further compounding the problem is the often inaccessibility of these areas around the globe. Yet details of the river bank position and bed elevation are essential elements in the construction of accurate predictive river models. To meet this challenge, remote sensing imagery is first used to initialize the construction of advanced high resolution river circulation models. In turn, such models are applied to dynamically interpret remotely-sensed surface features.

A method has been developed to automatically extract water and shoreline locations from arbitrarily sourced high resolution (~1m gsd) visual spectrum imagery without recourse to the spectral or color information. The approach relies on quantifying the difference in image texture between the relatively smooth water surface and the comparatively rough surface of surrounding land. Processing the segmented land/water interface results in ordered, continuous shoreline coordinates that bound river model construction. In the absence of observed bed elevations, one of several available analytic bathymetry cross-sectional relations are applied to complete the river model configuration. Successful application of this approach to the Snohomish River, WA and the Pearl River, MS are demonstrated.

Once constructed, a hydrodynamic model of the river model can also be applied to unravel the dynamics responsible for observed surface features in the imagery. At a creek-river confluence in the Potomac River, MD, an ebb tide front observed in the imagery is analyzed using the model. The result is knowledge that an ebb shoal located just outside of the creek must be present and is essential for front formation. Furthermore, the front is found to be persistent throughout the tidal cycle, although it changes sign between ebb and flood phases. The presence of the creek only minimally modifies the underlying currents.