How often should we observe our rivers? Progress towards satellite requirements to capture discharge dynamics.


River discharge is widely recognized as one of the most crucial variables for improving our comprehension of hydrological processes because it integrates all upstream water cycle dynamics. A detailed understanding of the space-time variability of streamflow is vital to providing the accurate knowledge needed to support decision-making for water resources management and flood forecasting and mitigation for rivers around the world. The spatial coverage of gauges worldwide is limited and has been declining in recent years, with placement bias towards large rivers and developed regions. Data sharing constraints across political boundaries further constrain the availability of river observations for global research and decision-making. Much hope is being placed on remote sensing as a potential game-changer, including data from the recently launched SWOT mission.

Yet, it remains unclear what temporal revisit, spatial sampling, spatial resolution, and variable of interest from satellites are best suited to capture discharge dynamics in rivers. We take you on a tour of the space-time propagation of water in rivers and provide insights on recent and ongoing efforts to reveal the type of observing capabilities that could lead to an accurate understanding and representation of water movement through Earth’s hydrographic networks.

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