Active Archive of Large Floods, 1985-Present

Master Index of Inundation Maps

The Surface Water Record

River Watch

Other Flood Detection Tools

Sample Images and Maps






Space-based Measurement, Mapping, and Modeling of Surface Water

For Research, Humanitarian, and Water Management Applications

Flood Observatory Director

Mission Statement

Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System
University of Colorado, Campus Box 450, Boulder, CO 80309 USA

Breaking News: MODIS and SAR mapping of flooding in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, May 27, 2015. Two samples below.

Red River flooding, May 27, NASA Terra MODIS

Enlarged Google Earth view of same data, south of Hugo.


Sample of Standard "Current Conditions and Flood Hazard Map", Guapore River, Bolivia and Brazil

  • Light Blue: Current MODIS Water (from 14 day composite); Blue: Bankfull, ~ 1.5 yr discharge; Light Purple: Moderate Flood (1.5 - 5 yr discharge); Light Red: > 5 yr Flood;Red: >10 yr Flood; Light Gray: GAR 2015 25 yr Modeled Floodplain. See River Watch Site 1139.




Current Events: Click on areas below for access to information

The Surface Water Record is a comprehensive map record of the Earth's changing surface water (including current flooding or drought). Links to GIS data supporting the displays are also provided. This >20 year long effort has been sustained by grants and contracts from NASA, the European Commission, the World Bank, the Latin American Development Bank, and by Dartmouth College and the University of Colorado. Version 3 is fully automated with daily updates of selected map sheets.

Guide to the Surface Water Record


Whole Earth image from JHT's Planetary Pixel Emporium




River Watch 2: Experimental Satellite-based River Discharge Measurements

Daily updates complete at 16:00 MST/23:00 UTC

River Watch 2 is an experimental river discharge and watershed runoff measurement system. It can detect and measure floods. Satellite microwave sensors provide global coverage of the Earth’s land surface on a near-daily basis and, at certain wavelengths, without major interference from cloud cover. Using a processing strategy first developed for wide-area optical sensors (1), these sensors (e.g. AMSR-E, AMSR-2, TRMM, and GPM) can measure river discharge changes at carefully selected locations. As rivers rise and discharge increases, river measurement sites can very sensitively monitor these changes (2, 3). Transformation of the remote sensing signal to discharge values is accomplished via a rating equation (as is the case for stage-based discharge measurements on the ground). For River Watch 2, the calibrating discharge values are obtained by runs of a global runoff model (4).


Seven-day watershed Runoff Measurements from the River Watch Processor (in prep.)

DFO began its work in 1993 using ESA ERS-1 SAT data to map the Great Flood of the Upper Mississippi Valley, USA. We have employed a variety of sensors since then to map floods. See Rapid Response Inundation Maps for many of the results.

Example: late 2011 Thailand flooding

2011 Thailand Powerpoint Time Series

Recent Flood Mapping

2014 Bolivia Event #4117

2014 Paraguay and Brazil, Event #4150 (North)

2014 Paraguay and Brazil, Event #4150 (South)

2014 Amazonas, Brazil, Event #4159

2014 Bihar, India, Event #4174

2014 Bangladesh, Event #4178

2014 South Sudan, Event #4164

2014 Pakistan, Event #4179

2014 Ethiopia and Somalia, Event #4201

2014 Mexico, Event #4203

Experimental or Under Construction Displays (updated daily)

Freshwater Discharge Into The Arctic Ocean

Latin American Current Surface Water at GeoSUR

Latin America Flood Detection

Southern Africa Flood Detection

Southern Europe and Northern Africa Flood Detection

Australia Flood Detection

Ethiopia Surface Water Monitoring

Mozambique Surface Water Monitoring

Ganges-Brahmaputra Surface Water Monitoring

Indus Basin Surface Water Monitoring

Dynamic Surface Water Maps (floods, droughts, lakes and reservoirs, and the coastal zone)

See also other projects and data products



Some Other Sample Results and Services


Damaging flooding in the Pakistani Punjab, sample view, September 8, 2014. See also Flood Event display.

Sringar flooding

Damaging flooding in the Sindh, Pakistan, sample view, September 21, 2014. See also Flood Event display.


Sample of drought (reduced surface water) mapping in the Central USA, Summer, 2012 using NASA MODIS data.. Yellow shows new dry land. See appropriate sheets of the Surface Water Record when droughts are underway. As well, the runoff displays above may be used to look for areas of surface water anomalies. In 2014, we will be moving increasingly to Google Earth and Google Maps platforms.


Plot of total number of large and extreme floods listed in the DFO Flood Archive. High magnitude floods (intense events covering large areas over extended periods of time) so far exhibit a post-1985 upward trend in this archive.





The Flood Observatory facilitates practical use of space-based information for international flood detection, flood response, future risk assessment, and hydrological research. In 2013-2017, it is leading a NASA SMD/ESD Applied Sciences Program project to improve World Food Programme use of flood mapping information. Click on video below for visualization of WFP logistics. Also see this video for information about the role of the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters in making satellite data available for disaster response.



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Creative Commons License
This web site and associated data by G. Robert Brakenridge and Albert J. Kettner are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.



This work is made possible by data acquired by NASA, the Japanese Space Agency, and the European Space Agency, and funding support from NASA and the European Commission, through the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) project, Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy. The Observatory was founded in 1993 at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH USA and moved to the University of Colorado, INSTAAR, CSDMS in 2010. The institutional support of both universities is gratefully acknowledged.

http://floodobservatory.colorado.edu/Flood Observatory