Mapping inundated bathymetry for estimating lake water storage changes from SRTM DEM: A global investigation

Kai Liu, Chunqiao Song, Shuang Zhao, Jida Wang, Tan Chen, Pengfei Zhan, Chenyu Fan, Jie Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lake water budgets are sensitive to climate change and human activities and have been undergoing rapid changes worldwide over the past few decades. Satellite altimeters greatly promote the large-scale monitoring of lake level and storage variations. However, limited spatiotemporal coverage of the existing individual altimeters prevents long-term and spatially seamless observations on global lakes. These limitations are partially surmounted by the gridded digital elevation model (DEM) data, which can facilitate spatially contiguous measurements of lake bathymetry exposed at the low-level period. The high-resolution SRTM DEM has been widely used for estimating lake level variations due to its early collection time and reliable data quality, while how many lakes worldwide and to what extent of the newly inundated areas can be monitored based on SRTM DEM remains unexplored. Here, we conduct a quasi-global investigation of SRTM DEM regarding its capability of mapping inundated-area bathymetry and estimating lake storage variations. After generating a global-scale lake inventory (122,444 lakes below 60°N, >1 km2) representing the maximum water inundation extents between 1984 and 2020, the feasibility of mapping lake inundated-area bathymetry was evaluated by comparing the maximum inundated area with the waterbody extent derived from SRTM DEM and analyzing the characteristics of interannual and seasonal variability of each lake. Results show that the maximum exposed lake bathymetries from the SRTM DEM data cover an area of 372,986 km2, accounting for 15.95% of the maximum water area of our investigated lakes. Climate-driven lake expansions or human-induced reservoir impoundments after 2000 (the SRTM mission period) are the main contributors to the higher availability of SRTM DEM-based bathymetry mapping on the Tibetan Plateau, India, eastern China, and Amazon Plains. As the newly launched Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission is anticipated to monitor lake water budget variation at an unprecedented resolution, this study provides a base map for supplementing inundated bathymetry information. The joint use of SRTM and SWOT-based observations will extend the time and space extents of lake-level measurements, thereby enhancing our understanding of lake dynamics at a longer timescale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113960
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024


  • Global scale
  • Lake bathymetry
  • SWOT
  • Water storage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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