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UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (GB)


FluViSat is a proof-of-concept study leveraging recent scientific advances in hydrology, to explore the potential use of satellite-collected video imagery to provide accurate and timely quantification of water movements and river flows for the benefit of water management globally. The study is being led by UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, in partnership with the Luxembourg-based company, RSS-Hydro, and the Queensland Government, Australia.

According to the OECD, floods affect 250 million people and cause 40 billion USD in losses on an annual basis. In addition, the demand for water is continually growing, placing severe stress on water availability. Freshwater management requires quantitative observations of how much water is flowing through and is being stored within river catchments, and yet in many cases our water monitoring capabilities fall short of requirements.
Previous efforts to determine river discharge from Earth Observation (EO) data have largely been based on the determination of water surface height and extent alone, and lacked the critical parameter of flow speed. Two recent advances have provided a potential step-change in our ability to observe freshwater flows from space. The first is the availability of satellite networks, such as the SkySat constellation operated by Planet that combine very high-resolution video imagery with frequent revisit times. The second is the development of proven non-contact methods for digital video-based ‘surface velocimetry’ methods for streamflow determination. Surface velocimetry techniques work on the principle that by tracking the movement of visible features on the water’s surface through the frame of digital video files, one can detect and quantify the movement of flowing water.
The FluViSat project is addressing the scientific challenge of accurately determining the speed of movement of water on the earth’s surface from high-resolution satellite video imagery. By deriving and comparing surface velocities and river discharges from data collected simultaneously from satellite video, low altitude drone video and surface Acoustic Doppler Current Profile (ADCP) during high flow events in rivers and tidal locations in the UK, Australia and Norway, the international project team is exploring:
  1. The potential of satellite-based surface velocimetry methods in hydrometry, and
  2. Their implications for water resource and flood risk managers, the private sector, and EO data providers.
The primary customers for this innovation are water resource managers, environmental regulators, and those involved risk and disaster mitigation and management. However, the successful proof of concept can also be beneficial to the re-insurance community, hydro-meteorological systems modellers, as well the EO data service providers.
The project is looking to enable flow velocity and discharge data collection from ungauged locations, or locations that may be hard to reach. The new method also has the potential to improve significantly the observation of the hugely damaging and disruptive overland flows that accompany many major flood events. Taken together, the method can benefit and complement existing risk reduction and emergency management systems.
Water flow velocity and discharge estimates are essential to the management of diffuse pollutant fluxes, general water quality monitoring, and water-use for irrigation and recreation, as well as in the modelling and prediction of river morpho-dynamics.  As such, the method derived from this project can benefit environmental regulators and water resource managers.
Finally, as a feasibility study, this project could provide vital insights into the needs and values of possible future sentinel video missions, but more importantly, it can demonstrate the potential value of satellite video imagery for scientific, societal and commercial activities.

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Prime contractor
UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (GB)
  • RSS-Hydro (LU)