Remote sensing for hydrological applications

The research activity is focused on the development of innovative methods for exploiting satellite observations in hydrological applications. We use (and develop) remote sensing products for monitoring hydrological and hydraulic variables (rainfall, soil moisture, water depth, flow velocity and river discharge) and evaluate their potential in the modelling of the hydrological and hydraulic phenomena. The main question we would like to answer is: “Can satellite observations be used for integrating ground measurements in order to predict hydrological processes in ungauged regions worldwide?”

In this research area, we focus on:

  • The acquisition, analysis and processing of remote sensing data.
  • The ground validation of remote sensing observations of soil moisture, water depth, precipitation and discharge.
  • The use of satellite observations for floods and landslide forecasting, erosion assessment, drought monitoring, numerical weather prediction, rainfall and discharge estimation.

The research is oriented to evaluate the potential of the new source of data represented by satellite observations for obtaining hydrological variables and for improving the modelling of the water cycle. The recent succession along with the extensive availability of the different satellite missions represent a huge enhancement in the hydrology field, allowing their temporally continuative use on a global scale. The science questions are: 1) Can satellite data provide an effective support to study the water cycle? What is the benefit with respect to the in situ measurements? 2) How to integrate multi-sensor observations for obtaining high-quality and high-reliability satellite products? 3) What is the impact of satellite data in the operational hydrology?

We develop algorithm and tools that ingest satellite data for the estimation and the modelling of the hydrological variables. The codes include SM2RAIN for estimating rainfall estimation from soil moisture data, tools for the validation of satellite soil moisture products, the calibration of hydraulic models, data assimilation, and discharge estimation through satellite data.

The research has sparked interest in the scientific community, as demonstrated by national and international collaborations that have allowed to extend their studies by local and regional to global. The activity has led to international projects funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), SMOS+RAINFALL, WACMOS-MED, SM2RAIN to CCI, COMMONs, WACMOS-IRRIGATION, RIDESAT, STREAM and by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for SMAP and SWOT missions. Furthermore, we are also an active partner in the EUMETSAT Satellite Application Facility on Support to Operational Hydrology and Water Management (H-SAF)

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