Categories: GIS Data

Global Dataset of River Widths Developed from Landsat Imagery

Hydrologists Tamlin Pavelsky of UNC-Chapel Hill and George Allen of Texas A&M University used a combination of satellite imagery and field measurements coupled with statistical modeling to calculate worldwide river and stream surface measurements (related: Global Dataset of River Widths Developed from Landsat Imagery).  The end result is the Global River Widths from Landsat (GRWL) Database which was developed from GIS data collected from 3,693 gauge stations and 7,376 Landsat TM, ETM+ and OLI scenes.  These researchers calculated the total river and stream surface area (RSSA) from these data sources at a volume that is about 44% higher than previously estimates based on extrapolations of small sample sizes.  “We added up all the rivers and streams around the world [and] got an area larger than the size of Texas. The estimate was significantly larger than the previous best estimate, particularly in the Arctic,” noted George Allen, an associate professor of geography.

This database will be used to help assess carbon emissions.  “As we try to mitigate the effects of climate change, it’s really important that we clearly understand where the carbon that we are emitting goes, and that requires us to accurately quantify the global carbon cycle,” said Tamlin Pavelsky, senior author and associate professor of global hydrology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Our new calculation helps scientists better assess how much carbon dioxide is moving from rivers and streams into the atmosphere each year.”

This data will also be used by the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite (SWOT), launching in 2021.  Part of the SWOT mission will be to measure continental water surfaces, including the width, height, and slope of rivers and the surface area and elevations of lakes.  The GRWL GIS dataset will be used to facilitate analysis of the raw SWOT data.

The R code to calculate River and Stream Surface Area (RSSA) is freely available for download from Github.

Download the data: Global River Widths from Landsat (GRWL) Database


The Global River Widths from Landsat (GRWL) Database contains over 58M measurements of planform river geometry. Source: Allen & Pavelsky, 2018.

The Study:

Allen, G. H., & Pavelsky, T. M. (2018). Global extent of rivers and streams. Science.

See Also

Published by

Recent Posts

GIS and Map Contests Roundup

Current map and GIS related competitions listed in order of the competition deadline.

10 hours ago

ArcGIS Online and Android

Developers can work with ArcGIS Online in tandem with Android Studio in order to make their applications available to a…

4 days ago

How to Get the Map View in QGIS to Resize Properly on a Mac

One Mac OS specific bug is the map view canvas doesn't fill the available space in QGIS 3.x versions. Learn…

6 days ago

How to Populate a Cell with the ZIP Code Based on an Address in Google Sheets

If you have a field containing address information, you can set up a simple function in Google Sheets to be…

1 week ago

Awesome Public Datasets

If you're looking for sources of public data tucked into web sites, then check out Awesome Public Datasets, Free GIS…

1 week ago

The Equal Earth Map Projection

Researchers recently announced the development of the Equal Earth map projection, which has quickly gained influence due to its ability…

1 week ago