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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-62
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-62
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 10 Apr 2019

Research article | 10 Apr 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

River ice and water velocities using the Planet optical cubesat constellation

Andreas Kääb1, Bas Altena1, and Joseph Mascaro2 Andreas Kääb et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, 0316, Norway
  • 2Planet, San Francisco, postal code 94103, USA

Abstract. The PlanetScope constellation consists of ~ 150 optical cubesats that are evenly distributed like strings of pearls in two orbital planes and scan the Earth's land surface once per day with ~ 3 m spatial image resolution. Subsequent cubesats in each of the orbital planes image the Earth surface with a nominal time lapse of ~ 90 s between each other, which produces near-simultaneous pairs of scenes over the across-track overlaps of the cubesat swaths. We exploit this short time lapse between subsequent Planet cubesat images to track river ice floes on Northern rivers as indicators of water surface velocities. The method is demonstrated for a 60 km long reach of the Amur River in Siberia, and a 200 km long reach of the Yukon River, Alaska. The accuracy of the estimated horizontal surface velocities is on the order of ±0.01 m s−1. The application of our approach is complicated by cloud cover and low sun angles at high latitudes during the periods where rivers typically carry ice floes, and by the fact that the near-simultaneous swath overlaps by design do not cover the complete Earth surface. Still, the approach enables direct remote sensing of river surface velocities over many cold-region rivers and several times per year – much more frequent and over much larger areas than feasible so far, if at all. We find that freeze-up conditions seem in general to offer ice floes that are more suitable for tracking, and over longer time periods, compared to typical ice break-up conditions. The coverage of river velocities obtained could be particularly useful in combination with satellite measurements of river area, and river surface height and slope.

Andreas Kääb et al.
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Short summary
Knowledge of water-surface velocities in rivers is useful for understanding a wide range of processes and systems, but difficult to measure over large reaches. Here, we present a novel method to exploit near-simultaneous imagery produced by the Planet cubesat constellation to track river ice floes and estimate water surface velocities. We demonstrate the method for a 60km long reach of Amur River and a 200km long reach of Yukon River.
Knowledge of water-surface velocities in rivers is useful for understanding a wide range of...
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