Assessing urbanisation effects on rainfall-runoff using a remote sensing supported modelling strategy

Boud Verbeiren, Tim Van de Voorde, Frank Canters, M. Binard, Y. Cornet, Okke Batelaan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    49 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper aims at developing a methodology for assessing urban dynamics in urban catchments and the related impact on hydrology. Using a multi-temporal remote sensing supported hydrological modelling approach an improved simulation of runoff for urban areas is targeted. A time-series of five medium resolution urban masks and corresponding sub-pixel sealed surface proportions maps was generated from Landsat and SPOT imagery. The consistency of the urban mask and sealed surface proportion timeseries was imposed through an urban change trajectory analysis. The physically based rainfall-runoff model WetSpa was successfully adapted for integration of remote sensing derived information of detailed urban land use and sealed surface characteristics. A first scenario compares the original land-use class based approach for hydrological parameterisation with a remote sensing sub-pixel based approach. A second scenario assesses the impact of urban growth on hydrology. Study area is the Tolka River basin in Dublin, Ireland. The grid-based approach of WetSpa enables an optimal use of the spatially distributed properties of remote sensing derived input. Though change trajectory analysis remains little used in urban studies it is shown to be of utmost importance in case of time series analysis. The analysis enabled to assign a rational trajectory to 99% of all pixels. The study showed that consistent remote sensing derived land-use maps are preferred over alternative sources (such as CORINE) to avoid over-estimation errors, interpretation inconsistencies and assure enough spatial detail for urban studies. Scenario 1 reveals that both the class and remote sensing sub-pixel based approaches are able to simulate discharges at the catchment outlet in an equally satisfactory way, but the sub-pixel approach yields considerably higher peak discharges. The result confirms the importance of detailed information on the sealed surface proportion for hydrological simulations in urbanised catchments. In addition a major advantage with respect to hydrological parameterisation using remote sensing is the fact that it is site- and period-specific. Regarding the assessment of the impact of urbanisation (scenario 2) the hydrological simulations revealed that the steady urban growth in the Tolka basin between 1988 and 2006 had a considerable impact on peak discharges. Additionally, the hydrological response is quicker as a result of urbanisation. Spatially distributed surface runoff maps identify the zones with high runoff production. It is evident that this type of information is important for urban water management and decision makers. The results of the remote sensing supported modelling approach do not only indicate increased volumes due to urbanisation, but also identifies the locations where the most relevant impacts took place.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)92-102
    Number of pages11
    JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


    • Consistent urban trajectories
    • Multi-temporal EO parameterisation
    • Rainfall-runoff modelling
    • Sealed surface estimates


    Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing urbanisation effects on rainfall-runoff using a remote sensing supported modelling strategy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this