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Click here to download the ENVISAT Lake Graph files
Click here to download the ENVISAT Lake Text files
Click here to download the ENVISAT Lake Smooth Text files
Click here to download a summary list of lakes monitored by ENVISAT
Click here to download a summary list of lakes monitored by Jason-2/OSTM
Click here to download a summary list of lakes used to create the Lake Status map

Project Information


Altimetry Data

Ground-based Data and Information

Floods and Droughts

Other Altimetric Products

Related Sites



Latest Product News

March 2nd, 2015 — 
  • Please note that the water level product for Lake Mosul in Iraq (1534.Mosul) has recently been revised and now includes height information for additional dates. Users are advised to only use the variations displayed in this new product.

June, 2014 — 
  • The ENVISAT mission ended on May 9, 2012 and the ISRO/SARAL mission is now recording lake level variations in the same 35-day repeat cycle. The archive ENVISAT lake level products can now be found under the 'One Click Options" above. New operational SARAL products are expected to go on-line by early 2015.

January, 2013 — 
  • The lake level products derived from the NACA/CNES series of instruments (10-day temporal repeat) have been updated. The new JPJO.2 products are now available. Also note that the reference datum for each lake has now changed. It is no longer based on a 9-year mean level, but is based on full resolution (20Hz) data from a single fly-over date. In some cases the portion of the satellite track used over the lake has also changed to accommodate drought conditions. End-users should not mix the old TPJO.1 with the new TPJO.2.

April, 2012 — 
  • To aid users with converting the altimeter-derived relative time series of height variations into a series based on a mean sea level datum, additional products have now been made available. These new products are associated with the ENVISAT products and are in graph and text format. They show the geoid variation and lake reference datum across the lake. The lake reference datum is an elevation profile for a given date or satellite overpass cycle. The geoid profile has been constructed via interpolation of EGM2008. Details on how to use these reference datum and geoid profiles can be found in the FAQ section.

March, 2012 — 
  • 73 new ENVISAT lakes have been added and a total of 148 lakes are currently being monitored by ENVISAT.

March, 2012 — 
  • Users please note that a water-level product for the Kajakai reservoir is now available within the NASA/CNES series of satellite data. This product is Jason-2/OSTM only (i..e, post 2008) with a datum based on an individual (i.e., single-date) overpass within the OSTM timeframe. Based on a single overpass date (rather than 9year Topex mean datum) it therefore represents the start of the new TPJO.2 products which will emerge shortly and which will replace all existing TPJO.1 products.

January, 2012 — 
  • 18 new ENVISAT lakes have been added and a total of 75 lakes are currently being monitored by ENVISAT.

December, 2011 — 
  • 51 new ENVISAT lakes have been added and a total of 57 lakes are currently being monitored by ENVISAT.

October, 2011 — 
  • New ENVISAT products from the ESA satellite mission are in the process of being installed with 6 new lakes currently being monitored by ENVISAT.

January, 2011 — 
  • Users can now download all products at 1-click. See the option at the top left-hand side of this page. The 3 files are tar format and contain the text (raw and smoothed) and graphical products for all lakes currently in the database.

December, 2010 — 
  • An error in the surface elevation product for Lake Powell, USA has been identified and corrected this month. Users please note the new available time series is available for download.

August, 2010 — 
  • TIME SERIES: The time series provided for each lake is not based on a fixed (lat/long) location but is derived from height information along a specific stretch of lake water. The location and extent of this stretch are in the ascii text files. As several lakes, reservoirs, and inland seas (e.g. Aral Sea, Guri reservoir) are experiencing drought or low-level conditions, the original lake stretch may now be including multiple pools of water each surface varying differently with time. This may lead to an erroneous overall mean measurement. In the future we may change the location of the stretch of water to minimize these problems but will announce such changes in the bulletins.
  • PRODUCT UPDATES: The lake products were modified in October 2009. Users should not mix the pre Oct 2009 product with the Nov 2009-2010 products as there are differences in reference datum and height corrections. Users should take the completely revised 1992-2010 product.
  • WEEKLY UPDATES: The time resolution of the NASA/OSTM products is 10-days but products are updated on a weekly basis if the satellite data is available to us. The last height value in the product text file may thus be set to 999.99 indicating that the available data was not yet available. Users should therefore check the height entries the following week to note the replacement of the 999.999 value with a valid measurement.
  • MISSING DATA: Note that the date/time/height parameters for Topex/Poseidon cycle118 and Jason-1 IGDR/cycle001 are all set to 999.999 default values. There was no lake data from these instruments during these periods.
  • SMOOTHED PRODUCTS: The format of the filtered/smoothed product text file has been altered. The date/time parameters are now set to the same format as the raw-data text file. Note that the filtered file 999.999 height entries reflect the original 999.999 values in the raw files i.e. the smoothing was not allowed to interpolate over original data gaps to avoid interpolation across too large a time period. The smoothed product file contains data that are sorted in mission order, not time order. The order of satellite mission is Topex, then Jason-1, then OSTM. There are 6month time periods when Topex/Jason and Jason/OSTM were flying in tandem, being only ~1minute apart on the same orbit. The data recorded by both instruments during these tandem periods will therefore overlap in time.
  • HEIGHT CORRECTIONS: The height of the lake is determined by applying a correction that takes into consideration the water vapor in the atmosphere. In cases where there is no such instrument-based or model-derived correction value, the water vapor correction field parameter (typically set to FMO=model or TMR=instrument) is now set to "N/A".
  • RADAR BACKSCATTER COEFFICIENT: The estimation of the radar backscatter coefficient (sigma0) value in the product text files, which can depict periods of calm or frozen water, has been revised. Typical values are in the range 10-50dB. Any 999.999 or 99.99 are default values and should be rejected.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-FAS), in co-operation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the University of Maryland, are routinely monitoring lake and reservoir height variations for many large lakes around the world. The program currently utilizes near-real time NASA, CNES and NRL radar altimeter data over inland water bodies in an operational manner. The surface elevation products are produced via a semi-automated process and placed at this web site for USDA and public viewing. Monitoring height variations will greatly assist the USDA/FAS Office of Global Analysis to quickly locate regional droughts, as well as improve crop production estimates for irrigated regions located downstream from lakes and reservoirs. All targeted lakes and reservoirs are located within major agricultural regions. Currently ~75 lakes are included but his will expand to ~600 as the program incorporates data from the ESA ERS and ENVISAT missions. Reservoir and Lake height variations may be viewed in graphical and text format by placing the cursor on and clicking the continent and lake of interest.

Semi-Automated Data Processing
The project utilizes near-real time radar altimeter data from the Poseidon-3 instrument on-board the Jason-2 (or OSTM) satellite which was launched in June, 2008. In addition, data from the Jason-1 mission (2002-2008) and an historical data archive from the TOPEX/POSEIDON mission (1992-2002) are also used. Data processing procedures closely follow methods developed by the NASA Ocean Altimeter Pathfinder Project (see references). When fully operational, updated products are delivered within 7-10 days after satellite overpass. The resulting time series of height variations are expected to be accurate to better than 10cm rms for the largest (and more open) bodies of water such as The Great Lakes, USA, Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika in Africa etc. Smaller lakes or those that experience more sheltered (from wind) conditions can expect to have accuracy's better than 20cm rms (e.g. Lake Chad, AFrica). Satellite passes that cross over narrow reservoir extents in severe terrain will push the limits of the instruments with resulting rms values of many tens of centimeters. Despite limitations, satellite radar altimeters can potentially monitor the variation of surface water height for many large inland water bodies including lake, reservoir, wetland region and river channel. Full details and references can be found by clicking the associated links in the left-hand frame.

Satellite Radar Altimetry Top
In General: A satellite radar altimeter is not an imaging device, but a nadir-pointing instrument continuously recording average surface `spot' heights directly below the satellite, as it transverses over the Earth's surface. Operating at ~13.6GHz, each altimeter emits a series of microwave pulses towards the surface. By noting the two-way time delay between pulse emission and echo reception, the surface height can be deduced. Each returned height value is an average of all surface heights found within the footprint of the altimeter. The diameter of the footprint depends on the surface roughness, but can typically range between 200m (for open pools of water in calm conditions) to a few kilometers (open water with surface waves). Each satellite is placed in a specific repeat orbit, so after a certain number of days the same point (to within 1km), on the Earth's surface is revisited. In this way, time series of surface height changes can be constructed for a particular location along the satellite ground track during the lifetime of the mission.

There have been a number of altimetric satellite missions to date and follow-on missions can be expected (see Figure and Table below).

General Timeline for Satellite Radar Altimeters

Instrument Summary
Satellite Operation Repeat Period Approximate Launch
SEASAT 1978 17 days  
GEOSAT 1985-1989 17 days  
GFO 2000-2008 17 days  
ERS-1 1992-2005 35 days  
ERS-2 1995-2003 35 days  
ENVISAT 2002-2012 35 days  
SARAL   35 days Jan 2013
Sentinel-3   27 days 2014
T/P 1992-2002 10 days  
JASON-1 2002-2008 10 days  
JASON-2 2008-present 10 days  
JASON-3   10 days 2013

Although their primary objectives are ocean and ice studies, altimeters have had considerable success in the monitoring of inland water bodies. In particular, the ability to remotely detect water surface level changes in lakes and inland seas has been demonstrated. Unhindered by time of day, weather, vegetation or canopy cover, the technique has further been applied to a number of rivers, wetlands and floodplains in several test-case studies. In particular, the results demonstrate how submonthly, seasonal, and interannual variations in height can be monitored.

For full details on Satellite Radar Altimetry and the application to inland water see the References section.

Advantages and Limitations of Satellite Radar Altimetry Top


  • Day/night and all weather operation.
  • Generally unhindered by vegetation or canopy cover.
  • All determined surface heights are with respect to one common reference frame.
  • Satellites are placed in repeat orbits (up to 1km either side of a nominal ground track) enabling systematic monitoring of rivers, lakes, wetlands, inland seas and floodplains.
  • Has the potential to contribute height information for any target beneath the satellite overpass, thus contributing information where traditional gauge (stage) data may be absent.
  • Satellite altimetric instruments have been in continuous operation since 1991 and new missions are scheduled for the next decade. There is therefore the ability to monitor seasonal to interannual variations during the lifetime of these satellites.
  • Techniques have been validated and results published in peer-reviewed journals.


  • These instruments are primarily designed to operate over uniform surfaces such as oceans and ice-sheets. Highly undulating or complex topography may cause data loss or non-interpretation of data.
  • Retrieved heights are an "average" of all topography within the instrument footprint. Such values are further averaged in the direction of the satellite motion, giving, for example, one final height value every 580m (TOPEX/POSEIDON) or 350m (ERS) along the ground track. Altimetric values therefore differ from traditional gauge measurements which offer "spot" heights at specific locations.
  • The height accuracy is dominated by knowledge of the satellite orbit, the altimetric range (distance between antenna and target), the geophysical range corrections and the size and type of the target.
  • Unlike imaging instruments, altimeters only retrieve heights along a narrow swath determined by the instrument's footprint size. The effective footprint diameter can vary depending on the nature of the target, and can potentially range from several hundred meters to many kilometers.
  • Minimum target size is controlled by the instrument footprint size and the telemetry/data rates, and also on the surrounding topography and the target-tracking method used.
  • The satellite orbit scenario and target size also determine the spatial and temporal coverage. Improved temporal coverage is gained at the expense of spatial coverage for a single satellite mission.
  • Major wind events, heavy precipitation, tidal effects and the presence of ice will effect data quality and accuracy.

Datasets Top
Several altimetric datasets are currently being exploited: 1) TOPEX/POSEIDON (T/P) In its original orbit (1992-2002) this satellite operated with a 10-day repeat orbit, with global coverage extending to North/South latitude 66 degrees. 10 years of archived GDR data (from September 1992) are utilized. T/P datasets have been provided by AVISO/CNES (Version C) and the NASA Physical Oceanography DAAC at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. 2) Jason-1 The follow-on mission to T/P, the Jason-1 satellite was launched on December 7th 2001. This project utilizes the IGDR Jason data which is typically available within 3-4 days after satellite overpass. Like T/P, the Jason-1 orbital repeatability is 10-days with the same global coverage. The Jason-1 IGDR datasets are available via ftp at 3) Jason-2 or OSTM, the follow on mission to Jason-1 launched in June 2008. OSTM IGDR data are utilized and can obtained from both AVISO and NOAA. 4) The project also made use of data from the NRL's Geosat Follow On mission (or GFO). In this case GDR data from NOAA was acquired.

The Jason-2 or Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM) was launched on June 20, 2008. It is the follow-on satellite to the Topex/Poseidon (1992-2002) and Jason-1 (2002-2008) missions, and continues the observations of surface water levels. The OSTM mission is a joint effort between NASA, CNES, NOAA and EUMETSAT with science objectives that focus on the ocean, as well as coastal and inland water regions. The new lake and reservoir water levels observed by the OSTM radar altimeter instrument will be continuously added to the existing time series on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, validation exercises, comparing TPJO.1 with ground based daily gauge data on the Great Lakes, USA are showing that the root mean square (rms) error on the current products are better than 10cm and this accuracy can be assumed for similar sized large lakes around the world.

Additional information on the Jason-2/OSTM mission can be found at:

Products Top
The aim of this web site is to provide time-series of water level variations for some of the world's largest lakes and reservoirs. Currently, large (>100 km²) lakes in important agricultural regions are the main targets.
The main database products are graphs and associated information in tabular form. For the Graphs, changes in water level are real but the y-scale is arbitrary (relative) and given in meters. The x-axis refers to time with intervals of several months. The blue symbol represents results from the Topex/Poseidon satellite (the NASA-ALT and SSALT/Poseidon-1 altimeters), the red symbol denotes results from the Jason-1 mission (the Poseidon-2 altimeter), the purple symbol denotes the OSTM or Jason-2 mission (the Poseidon-3 altimeter). Additional graphs may also depict results (green symbol) from the GFO mission.
The Results Table gives heights, associated errors and date/time of the observation. Note that a geographical extent across the lake has been used to derive the time series - rather than a spot measurement which is more typical of a traditional gauge. A discussion on altimetric height accuracy can be found in the Accuracy+Validation section.

For more information contact: Top

  Dr. Charon Birkett
University of Maryland
College Park, USA
Tel: (301) 405 9296
Fax: (301) 405 8468
Dr. Curt Reynolds
1400 Independence Ave, SW
South Building Stop 1051, Room 4649,
Washington, DC 20250

Funding Acknowledgement Top
These lake products exist in the public domain and were funded as part of the USDA/FAS/OGA and NASA Global Agriculture Monitoring (GLAM) Project. The following general acknowledgement of this database should be made if the information presented here is used in publications for further scientific purposes and/or additional applications:

  USDA/FAS/OGA and NASA Global Agriculture Monitoring (GLAM) Project. Lake and reservoir surface height variations from the USDA’s Global Reservoir and Lake (GRLM) web site at: Altimetric lake level time-series variations from the Topex/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2/OSTM, and Geosat Follow-On (GFO) missions.

Disclaimer Top
Users of these datasets must carefully note the information given in the Accuracy+Validation and Advantages and Limitations sections.

This is an on-going project with elements that reside in the research domain. We therefore reserve the right to state the following liability disclaimer:

The USDA/NASA/UMD/SGT Project Investigators accept no responsibility for the accuracy and application of the lake level products held in this database.

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