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Remote measurement of river discharge using thermal particle image velocimetry (PIV) and various sources of bathymetric information

October 24, 2017

Although river discharge is a fundamental hydrologic quantity, conventional methods of streamgaging are impractical, expensive, and potentially dangerous in remote locations. This study evaluated the potential for measuring discharge via various forms of remote sensing, primarily thermal imaging of flow velocities but also spectrally-based depth retrieval from passive optical image data. We acquired thermal image time series from bridges spanning five streams in Alaska and observed strong agreement between velocities measured in situ and those inferred by Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV), which quantified advection of thermal features by the flow. The resulting surface velocities were converted to depth-averaged velocities by applying site-specific, calibrated velocity indices. Field spectra from three clear-flowing streams provided strong relationships between depth and reflectance, suggesting that, under favorable conditions, spectrally-based bathymetric mapping could complement thermal PIV in a hybrid approach to remote sensing of river discharge; this strategy would not be applicable to larger, more turbid rivers, however. A more flexible and efficient alternative might involve inferring depth from thermal data based on relationships between depth and integral length scales of turbulent fluctuations in temperature, captured as variations in image brightness. We observed moderately strong correlations for a site-aggregated data set that reduced station-to-station variability but encompassed a broad range of depths. Discharges calculated using thermal PIV-derived velocities were within 15% of in situ measurements when combined with depths measured directly in the field or estimated from field spectra and within 40% when the depth information also was derived from thermal images. The results of this initial, proof-of-concept investigation suggest that remote sensing techniques could facilitate measurement of river discharge.

Publication Year 2017
Title Remote measurement of river discharge using thermal particle image velocimetry (PIV) and various sources of bathymetric information
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2017.09.004
Authors Carl J. Legleiter, Paul J. Kinzel, Jonathan M. Nelson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Index ID 70192233
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Central Branch