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Mapping riverbed sediment size from Sentinel‐2 satellite data

Marchetti, Giulia and Bizzi, Simone and Belletti, Barbara and Lastoria, Barbara and Comiti, Francesco and Carbonneau, Patrice Enrique (2022) 'Mapping riverbed sediment size from Sentinel‐2 satellite data.', Earth surface processes and landforms., 47 (10). pp. 2544-2559.


A comprehensive understanding of river dynamics requires the grain size distribution of bed sediments and its variation across different temporal and spatial scales. Several techniques are already available for grain size assessment based on field and remotely sensed data. However, the existing methods are only applicable on small spatial scales and on short time scales. Thus, the operational measurement of grain size distribution of riverbed sediments at the catchment scale remains an open problem. A solution could be the use of satellite images as the main imaging platform. However, this would entail retrieving information at sub-pixel scales. In this study, we propose a new approach to retrieve sub-pixel scale grain size class information from Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery building upon a new image-based grain size mapping procedure. Three Italian gravel-bed rivers featuring different morphologies were selected for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) acquisitions, field surveys and laboratory analysis meant to serve as ground truth grain size data, ranging from medium sand to coarse gravel. Grain size maps on the river bars were generated in each study site by exploiting image texture measurements, upscaled and co-registered with Sentinel-2 data resolution. Relationships between the grain sizes measured and the reflectance values in Sentinel-2 imagery were analysed using a machine learning framework. Results show statistically significant predictive models (MAE of ±8.34 mm and R2 = 0.92). The trained model was applied on 300 km of the Po River in Italy and allowed us to identify the gravel–sand transition occurring along this river length. Therefore, the approach presented here—based on freely available satellite data calibrated by low-cost drone-derived imagery—represents a promising step towards an automated surface mean grain size mapping over long river length, easily repeated through time for monitoring purposes.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Date accepted:22 April 2022
Date deposited:01 July 2022
Date of first online publication:04 May 2022
Date first made open access:04 May 2023

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