Consistent observations of lakes and reservoirs that comprise the majority of surface freshwater globally are limited, especially in Africa where water bodies are exposed to unfavorable climatic conditions and human interactions. Publicly available satellite imagery has increased the ability to monitor water bodies of various sizes without much financial hassle. Landsat 7 and 8 images were used in this study to estimate area changes around Lake Chad. The Automated Water Extraction Index (AWEI), Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI), Modified Normalized Difference Water Index (MNDWI) and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) were compared for the remote sensing retrieval process of surface water. Otsu threshold method was used to separate water from non-water features. With an overall accuracy of ~96% and an inter-rater agreement (kappa coefficient) of 0.91, the MNDWI was a better indicator for mapping recent area changes in Lake Chad and was used to estimate the lake’s area changes from 2003–2016. Extracted monthly areas showed an increasing trend and ranged between ~1242 km2
and 2231 km2
indicating high variability within the 13-year period, 2003–2016. In addition, we combined Landsat measurements with Total Water Storage Anomaly (TWSA) data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. This combination is well matched with our estimated surface area trends. This work not only demonstrates the importance of remote sensing in sparsely gauged developing countries, it also suggests the use of freely available high-quality imagery data to address existing lake crisis.
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