Research trends in the use of remote sensing for inland water quality science: Moving towards multidisciplinary applications

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Simon Nemer Topp , Tamlin Pavelsky, Matthew R.V. Ross, Daniel Jensen, Marc Simard


Remote sensing approaches to measuring inland water quality date back nearly 50 years to the beginning of the satellite era. Over this time span, hundreds of peer reviewed publications have demonstrated promising remote sensing models to estimate biological, chemical, and physical properties of inland waterbodies. Until recently, most of these publications focused largely on algorithm development as opposed to implementation of those algorithms to address specific science questions. This slow evolution contrasts with terrestrial and oceanic remote sensing, where methods development in the 1970s led to publications focused on understanding spatially expansive, complex processes as early as the mid-1980s. This review explores the progression of inland water quality remote sensing from methodological development to scientific applications. We use bibliometric analysis to assess overall patterns in the field and subsequently examine 236 key papers to identify trends in research focus and scale. The results highlight an initial 30-year period where the majority of publications focused on model development and validation followed by a spike in publications, beginning in the early-2000s, applying remote sensing models to analyze spatiotemporal trends, drivers, and impacts of changing water quality on ecosystems and human populations. Recent and emerging resources, including improved data availability and enhanced processing platforms, are enabling researchers to address challenging science questions and model spatiotemporally explicit patterns in water quality. Examination of the literature shows that the past 10-15 years has brought about a focal shift within the field, where researchers are using improved computing resources, data sets, and operational remote sensing algorithms to better understand complex inland water systems. Future satellite missions promise to continue these improvements by providing observational continuity with spatial/spectral resolutions ideal for inland waters.



Earth Sciences, Hydrology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


remote sensing, Rivers, water quality, lakes, scientific advancement


Published: 2019-10-03 08:03

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GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) 2.1

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