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ECV T1 River Discharge
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Freshwater discharge from rivers influences oceanic circulation at interannual to decadal time scales and records of discharge from pristine river basins are also useful in detecting climate change. It has a role in driving the climate system, as the freshwater inflow to the oceans may influence thermohaline circulations.

ECV River Discharge

GTOS is currently assessing the status of the development of standards for each of the essential climate variables in the terrestrial domain, as requested by UNFCCC SBSTA/COP for its 23rd Session in Montreal, November 2005. The following report, documentation and other resources have been compiled for river discharge. We welcome your comments and inputs in improving and completing the analysis. Please send any material and comments to the GTOS Secretariat.


Download report PDF, 1.01 Mb, 1 November 2009


Listed below are the major references that have been identified in regards to methodology and standards for river discharge. Please inform us if you are aware of any other documentation or material which could be considered.

Alsdorf D.E., Melack J.M., Dunne T, Mertes L.A.K, Hess L.L., Smith L.C. (2000): Interferometric radar measurements of water level changes on the Amazon flood plain. Nature 404: 174–177.

Alsdorf D.E, Smith L.C, Melack J.M., (2001a): Amazon floodplain water level changes measured with interferometric SIR-C radar. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 39(2): 423–431.

Alsdorf D.E., Birkett C.M., Dunne T, Melack J, Hess L. (2001b): Water level changes in a large Amazon lake measured with space borne radar interferometry and altimetry. Geophysical Research Letters 28: 2671–2674.

Costa J.E., Spicer K.R., Cheng R.T., Haeni P.F., Melcher N.B., Thurman E.M., Plant W.J., Keller WC. (2000): Measuring stream discharge by noncontact methods: a proof-of-concept experiment. Geophysical Research Letters 27: 553–556.

Hirsch R. M, Costa J. E., (2004):U.S. Stream Flow Measurement and Data Dissemination Improve EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union. Vol. 85, No. 20, 18 May 2004, 197-203 pp.

GCOS (2000): Establishment of a Global Hydrological Observation Network for Climate. Report of the GCOS/GTOS/HWRP Expert Meeting, Geisenheim, Germany, June 26-30, 2000. Cihlar J., Grabs W., and Landwehr J. (eds), (GCOS-63; GTOS-26) (WMO/TD-No. 1047). ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-13

GCOS (2002): Report of the GCOS/GTOS/HWRP Expert Meeting on the Implementation of a Global Terrestrial Network - Hydrology (GTN-H), Koblenz, Germany, June 21-22, 2001. Grabs W, Thomas AR (eds), (GCOS-71; GTOS- 29) (WMO/TD-No. 1099). ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-17

GCOS (2003a): Global Terrestrial Network-Hydrology (GTN-H). Report of the GTN-H Coordination Panel Meeting, Toronto, Canada, 21-22 November 2002. Harvey KD, Grabs W, Thomas AR (eds), (GCOS-83; GTOS-33) (WMO/TD-No. 1155).

GCOS (2003b): Report of the GCOS/GTOS/HWRP Expert Meeting on Hydrological Data for Global Studies, Toronto, Canada, 18-20 November 2002. Harvey KD, Grabs W (eds), (GCOS-84; GTOS-32) (WMO/TD-No. 1156). ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-19

GCOS (2003c) Second Report on the Adequacy of the Global Climate Observing Systems. Developed on request of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climatic Change/ Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (UNFCCC/SBSTA). ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-?

GCOS (2003d): Status Report on the Key Climate Variables. Technical Supplement to the Second Report on the Adequacy of the Global Observing Systems for Climate. Draft Version 2.7 10th September 2003 ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-?

GCOS (2004a) Implementation Plan for the Global Observing System for Climate in Support of the UNFCCC. Developed on request of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climatic Change/ Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (UNFCCC/SBSTA). ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-?

GCOS (2004b) Analysis of Data Exchange Problems in Global Atmospheric and Hydrological Networks. Initial Summary Report (for SBSTA-20). ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-?

International Organization for Standardization (ISO), (1988): Liquid Flow Measurement in Open Channels: Vocabulary and Symbols. Third edition, ISO 772, Geneva.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO), (1981): Liquid Flow Measurement in Open Channels. Part 1: Establishment and operation of a gauging station and Part 2: Determination of stage-discharge relation. ISO 1100, Geneva.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO), (2003): ISO 19115: Geographic information – Metadata

Kresse, W, Fadaie, K (2004): ISO Standards for Geographic Information, Springer, ISBN 3-540-20130-0

Maurer, T (2004a): Globally agreed standards for metadata and data on variables describing geophysical processes. A fundamental prerequisite to improve the management of the Earth System for our all future, GRDC Report No. 31, Global Runoff Data Centre, Koblenz, Germany. ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-?

Maurer, T (2004b): Transboundary and transdisciplinary environmental data and information integration - an essential prerequisite to sustainably manage the Earth System. INDUSTRY IDS-Water Europe 2004 Online Conference ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-14, 10 May - 28 May 2004, 14pp. See also

Maurer, T (2003a): Development of an operational internet-based near real time monitoring tool for global river discharge data. A contribution to the Global Terrestrial Network for Hydrology (GTN-H). GRDC Report No. 30, Global Runoff Data Centre, Koblenz, Germany. See document

Maurer, T (2003b): Intergovernmental arrangements and problems of data sharing, In: Timmerman JG, Behrens HWA, Bernardini F, Daler D, Poss P, Van Ruiten KJM, Ward RC (eds): Information to support sustainable water management: From local to global levels, Monitoring Tailor-Made IV Conference, St. Michielsgestel, the Netherlands 15-18 September 2003, RIZA, Lelystad, The Netherlands See document

Maurer, T (2003c): Challenges in transboundary and transdisciplinary environmental data integration in a highly heterogeneous and rapidly changing world - A view from the perspective of the Global Runoff Data Centre. In: Harmancioglu NB, Ozkul SD, Fistikoglu O, Geerders P (eds): Integrated Technologies for Environmental Monitoring and Information Production , Proc. NATO Advanced Research Workshop, 10 - 14 September 2001, Marmaris, Turkey. Nato Science Series IV Volume 23, Kluwer Academic Publishers See document

Maurer, T., (2005): The Global Terrestrial Network for River Discharge (GTN-R) - Near real-time data acquisition and dissemination tool for online river discharge and water level information. Proc. First International Symposium on Geo-Information for Disaster Management, 21-23 March 2005, Delft, The Netherlands, 18pp. ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-12

Morlock, S.E., (1996): Evaluation of Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler measurements of river discharge. U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4218 Indianapolis, Indiana. ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-23

Rantz, S.E., (1982): Measurement and Computation of Streamflow: Volume 1.Measurement of Stage and Discharge. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2175. ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-25

Smith, L.C., Isacks, B.L., Bloom, A.L., and Murray A.B., (1996): Estimation of discharge from three braided rivers using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite imagery: Potential application to ungaged basins', Water Resources Research, 32(7): 2021-2034 pp. ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-29

Smith, L.C., (1997) Satellite remote sensing of river inundation area, stage, and discharge: A review. Hydrological Processes, 11, 1427-1439. ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-28

Vörösmarty, C.J., B. Fekete, and B.A. Tucker. 1998. River Discharge Database, Version 1.1 (RivDIS v1.0 supplement). Available through the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space / University of New Hampshire, Durham NH (USA).

Vörösmarty, C.J., B. Fekete, and B.A. Tucker. 1996. River Discharge Database, Version 1.0 (RivDIS v1.0), Volumes 0 through 6. A contribution to IHP-V Theme 1. Technical Documents in Hydrology Series. UNESCO, Paris

World Meteorological Organization (WMO), (1980): Manual on Stream Gauging. Volumes I and II, Operational Hydrology Report No. 13. WMO-No. 519, Geneva.

World Meteorological Organization, (1994): Guide to hydrological practices. Data acquisition and processing analysis, forecasting and other applications. WMO-No.168, Geneva. (File code: ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-16-WMO-guide-hydrological-practices-ENG)

World Meteorological Organization (WMO), (2001a): Exchanging hydrological data and information, WMO policy and practice, WMO brochure No. 925, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO), (2001b): Exchange of Hydrological Data and Products, WMO Technical Reports in Hydrology and Water Resources No.74, P. Mosley, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. (WMO/TD-No. 1097). (fle code: ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-20

World Meteorological Organization (WMO), (2004): WMO Core Metadata Standard (v0-2).

World Meteorological Organization (WMO), (2006) Technical Regulations” Vol. III Hydrology, WMO No.49 Geneva. ECV-T1-riverdischarge-ref-01z

Xu K., Zhang J., Watanabe M., Sun C. (2004): Estimating river discharge from very high-resolution satellite data: a case study in the Yangtze River, China. Hydrological Processes. Volume 18, No 10: 1927-1939 pp

Relevant Web links

Please send us relevant Web links which will be listed below:


TEMS variables and T-sites

The Terrestrial Ecosystem Monitoring Sites (TEMS) database contains details on ecological variables and research sites which are undertaking ecological measurements.


We would like to thank the following individuals for having provided inputs and comments to this ECV report.

. Monica Monteduro, NRC, FAO

. Josef Cihlar


We welcome your inputs, comments and queries. Please send feedback to the GTOS Secretariat.

The above activities are part of Task Number CL-06-03 of the GEOSS implementation plan of GEO.

T1-River | T2-Water Use  | T3-Ground Water  | T4-Lake | T5-Snow | T6-Galciers |
T7-Frost | T8-Albedo | T9-Land | T10-fAPAR | T11-LAI | T12-Biomass | T13-Fire |
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© FAO   ::   Global Terrestrial Observing System - GTOS   ::   11 November 2009