University Of Wyoming Researchers Find Ways Around Difficulty With Measuring River Depth

Jan 21, 2021

The project measured the depth of the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park.
Credit Ansel Adams / NPS

Scientists at the University of Wyoming are measuring river depth with satellite and aircraft images, which could prove to be helpful with increasing frequency and intensity of flooding.

Former UW graduate student Brandon Overstreet said it's difficult but important to measure the depth of rivers.

"If we want to quantify the extent of flooding, we really need to know the topography of the bed underneath the water," he said. "That's a zone we know very little about. We know less about that river in your backdoor than we do the surface of the moon."

Overstreet's team looked at images and took some measurements of the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park.

"Areas that are shallow are going to appear brighter than areas that are deeper where more light has been absorbed," he said. "Using that same principle and taking field measurements, we can form a relationship between the pixel brightness and the water depth."

Overstreet said there are a lot of other factors to account for, like the amount of sunlight and the cloudiness of the river.

He said mapping river beds helps scientists understand how they behave during high flows. That's important because many communities are centered around rivers.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.