The number of reservoirs is rapidly increasing owing to the growth of the world’s economy and related energy and water needs. Yet, for the vast majority of reservoirs around the world, their locations and related information, especially for newly dammed reservoirs, are not readily available due to financial, political, or legal considerations. This study proposes an automated method of identifying newly dammed reservoirs from time series of MODIS-derived NDWI (normalized difference water index) images. Its main idea lies in the detection of abrupt changes in the NDWI time series that are associated with land-to-water conversion due to the reservoir impoundment. The proposed method is tested in the upper reach of the Yellow River that is severely regulated by constructed reservoirs. Our results show that five newly dammed reservoirs were identified in the test area during 2000–2018. Validated against high-resolution Google Earth imagery, our method is effective to determine both locations of the emerging medium-size reservoirs and the timing of their initial water impoundments. Such information then allows for a refined calculation of the reservoir inundation extents and storage capacities through the combination of higher-resolution Landsat imagery and SRTM DEM. The comparison of our estimated reservoir areas and capacities against documented information further indicates that the integration of multi-mission remote sensing data may provide useful information for understanding reservoir operations and impacts on river discharges. Our method also demonstrates a potential for regional or global inventory of emerging reservoirs, which is crucial to assessing human impacts on river systems and the global water cycle.
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