The application of remote sensing to water resources

  • Robert S. Drayton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Techniques are developed for the visual interpretation of drainage features from satellite imagery. The process of interpretation is formalised by the introduction of objective criteria. Problems of assessing the accuracy of maps are recognized, and a method is developed for quantifying the correctness of an interpretation, in which the more important features are given an appropriate weight. A study was made of imagery from a variety of landscapes in Britain and overseas, from which maps of drainage networks were drawn. The accuracy of the mapping was assessed in absolute terms, and also in relation to the geomorphic parameters used in hydrologic models. Results are presented relating the accuracy of interpretation to image quality, subjectivity and the effects of topography. It is concluded that the visual interpretation of satellite imagery gives maps of sufficient accuracy for the preliminary assessment of water resources, and for the estimation of geomorphic parameters.
An examination is made of the use of remotely sensed data in hydrologic models. It is proposed that the spectral properties of a scene are holistic, and are therefore more efficient than conventional catchment characteristics. Key hydrologic parameters were identified, and were estimated from streamflow records. The correlation between hydrologic variables and spectral characteristics was examined, and regression models for streamflow were developed, based solely on spectral data. Regression models were also developed using conventional catchment characteristics, whose values were estimated using satellite imagery. It was concluded that models based primarily on variables derived from remotely sensed data give results which are as good as, or better than, models using conventional map data. The holistic properties of remotely sensed data are realised only in undeveloped areas. In developed areas an assessment of current land-use is a more useful indication of hydrologic response.
Date of AwardFeb 1989
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorT.R.E. Chidley (Supervisor)


  • remote sensing
  • hydrology
  • modelling

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