Monitoring water discharge and floodplain connectivity for the northern Andes utilizing satellite data: A tool for river planning and science-based decision-making
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River discharge data and magnitudes of floods are often not readily available for decision makers of many developing nations, including Colombia. And this while flooding for these regions is often devastating, causing many fatalities and insurmountable damage to the most vulnerable communities. During the we season, in strong La Nina years, infrastructural damages of over $US 7.2 billion have occurred. Mitigation of such natural disasters lacks data-supported scientific approaches for evaluating river response to extreme climate events. Here, we propose a satellite-based technique to measure river discharge at selected sites for the main northern Andean River, the Magdalena. This method has the advantage of back calculating daily river discharges over a period of two decades, and thus making it possible to calculate return intervals of significant flood events. The study shows that satellite based river discharges well capture a) the inter-annual variability of river discharge; b) the natural seasonality of water discharge along the floodplains; and c) peak discharges that were observed during La Nina conditions between 2008 and 2011. The last is likely more accurate compared to ground-based gauging stations, as ground-based stations tend to overflow during large flood events and as such are hampered to accurately monitor peak discharges. Furthermore, we show that these derived discharges can form the base to study river-floodplain connectivity, providing environmental decision makers with a technique that makes it possible to better monitor river and ecosystem processes.