1Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
2Research Centre for Limnology, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Cibinong, Indonesia
3Earth System Science and Climate Change group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
4SarVision BV, Wageningen, The Netherlands
5Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Abstract. Floodplain lakes and peatlands in the middle Mahakam lowland area are considered as an ecologically important wetland in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. However, due to a lack of data, the hydrological functioning of the region is still poorly understood. Among remote sensing techniques that can increase data availability, radar is well-suitable for the identification, mapping, and measurement of tropical wetlands, for its cloud unimpeded sensing and night and day operation. Here we aim to extract flood extent and flood frequency information from a series of radar images of the middle Mahakam lowland area. We explore the use of Phased Array L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) imagery for observing flood inundation dynamics by incorporating field water level measurements. Water level measurements were carried out along the river, in lakes and in peatlands, using pressure transducers. For validation of the open water flood frequency map, bathymetry measurements were carried out in the main lakes. A series of PALSAR images covering the middle and lower Mahakam area in the years 2007 through 2010 was collected. A fully inundated region can be easily recognized on radar images from a dark signature. Open water flood frequency was mapped using a threshold value taken from radar backscatter of the permanently inundated river and lakes area. Radar backscatter intensity analysis of the vegetated floodplain area revealed consistently high backscatter values, indicating flood inundation under forest canopy. We used those values as the threshold for flood frequency mapping in the vegetated area.