Detecting the effects of extreme events on estuarine suspended particulate matter using satellite remote sensing (Scheldt Estuary): Challenges and opportunities

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Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) plays an important role in controlling water quality, particularly in turbid estuaries. SPM may be impacted by changes in weather and climate, including potential changes in the frequency or intensity of extremes. Yet, the linkages between extreme events in wind and river discharge, and particularly the role these have on local dynamics and spatial patterns of estuarine SPM are, to date, largely unknown. This study investigates the effects that wind and river discharge have on SPM in a turbid estuary. It uses atmospherically corrected remotely sensed reflectances from Landsat-5, -7, and -8. From these data, we establish a 37-year-long time series, from 1984 to 2020, of satellite-derived SPM for the Scheldt Estuary. SPM was estimated using an algorithm applied to the near-infrared band and subsequently compared to in situ SPM data. Additionally, a time series of river discharge and wind speed were used to assess the frequency and severity of extreme events of wind speed and river discharge. In general, statistically significant but weak relationships between SPM and river discharge and between SPM and wind speed were observed. SPM correlated with river discharge and wind in large parts of the estuary, indicating the important role of these drivers in the entire estuarine system. Our study demonstrates how synoptic satellite snapshots can be combined with in situ time series of drivers, such as river discharge and wind, to capture where these drivers relate to (and likely affect) SPM within an estuary. However, our study demonstrates an inability to capture SPM during windstorms both from in situ and satellite data. We discuss the challenges and limitations of assessing the effects of extreme events from satellite and in situ SPM. We recommend the deployment of complementary moored turbidimeters for continuous observations at two strategic locations, as indicated by our spatial study, to improve the ability to capture the effects of extreme events in both space and time.
Original languageEnglish
Article number670
JournalRemote sensing
Issue number3
Early online date23 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023




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