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Hydraulic visibility: Using satellite altimetry to parameterize a hydraulic model of an ungauged reach of a braided river

Garambois, Pierre‐André, Calmant, Stéphane, Roux, Hélène, Paris, Adrien, Monnier, Jérôme, Finaud‐Guyot, Pascal, Samine Montazem, Amanda, Santos da Silva, Joecila
Hydrological processes 2017 v.31 no.4 pp. 756-767
geometry, hydrodynamics, models, rivers, satellites, stream channels, stream flow, surface water, temporal variation, topography, Amazon River
What hydraulic information can be gained from remotely sensed observations of a river's surface? In this study, we analyze the relationship between river bed undulations and water surfaces for an ungauged reach of the Xingu River, a first‐order tributary of the Amazon river. This braided reach is crosscut more than 10 times by a ENVISAT (ENVironmental SATellite) track that extends over 100 km. Rating curves based on a modeled discharge series and altimetric measurements are used, including the zero‐flow depth Z₀ parameter, which describes river's bathymetry. River widths are determined from JERS (Japanese Earth Ressources Satellite) images. Hydrodynamic laws predict that irregularities in the geometry of a river bed produce spatial and temporal variations in the water level, as well as in its slope. Observation of these changes is a goal of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite mission, which has a final objective of determining river discharge. First, the concept of hydraulic visibility is introduced, and the seasonality of water surface slope is highlighted along with different flow regimes and reach behaviors. Then, we propose a new single‐thread effective hydraulic approach for modeling braided rivers flows, based on the observation scales of current satellite altimetry. The effective hydraulic model is able to reproduce water surface elevations derived by satellite altimetry, and it shows that hydrodynamical signatures are more visible in areas where the river bed morphology varies significantly and for reaches with strong downstream control. The results of this study suggest that longitudinal variations of the slope might be an interesting criteria for the analysis of river segmentation into elementary reaches for the Surface Water Ocean Topography mission that will provide continuous measurements of the water surface elevations, the slopes, and the reach widths.