Characterizing worldwide patterns of fluvial geomorphology and hydrology with the Global River Widths from Landsat (GRWL) database

Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
George H Allen and Tamlin Pavelsky, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, United States
The width of a river reflects complex interactions between river water hydraulics and other physical factors like bank erosional resistance, sediment supply, and human-made structures. A broad range of fluvial process studies use spatially distributed river width data to understand and quantify flood hazards, river water flux, or fluvial greenhouse gas efflux. Ongoing technological advances in remote sensing, computing power, and model sophistication are moving river system science towards global-scale studies that aim to understand the Earth’s fluvial system as a whole. As such, a global spatially distributed database of river location and width is necessary to better constrain these studies. Here we present the Global River Width from Landsat (GRWL) Database, the first global-scale database of river planform at mean discharge. With a resolution of 30 m, GRWL consists of 58 million measurements of river centerline location, width, and braiding index. In total, GRWL measures 2.1 million km of rivers wider than 30 m, corresponding to 602 thousand km2 of river water surface area, a metric used to calculate global greenhouse gas emissions from rivers to the atmosphere. Using data from GRWL, we find that ~20% of the world’s rivers are located above 60ºN where little high quality information exists about rivers of any kind. Further, we find that ~10% of the world’s large rivers are multichannel, which may impact the development of the new generation of regional and global hydrodynamic models. We also investigate the spatial controls of global fluvial geomorphology and river hydrology by comparing climate, topography, geology, and human population density to GRWL measurements. The GRWL Database will be made publically available upon publication to facilitate improved understanding of Earth’s fluvial system. Finally, GRWL will be used as an a priori data for the joint NASA/CNES Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) Satellite Mission, planned for launch in 2020.