Inland surface water is often the most accessible freshwater source. As opposed to groundwater, surface water is replenished in a comparatively quick cycle, which makes this vital resource—if not overexploited—sustainable. From a global perspective, freshwater is plentiful. Still, depending on the region, surface water availability is severely limited. Additionally, climate change and human interventions act as large-scale drivers and cause dramatic changes in established surface water dynamics. Actions have to be taken to secure sustainable water availability and usage. This requires informed decision making based on reliable environmental data. Monitoring inland surface water dynamics is therefore more important than ever. Remote sensing is able to delineate surface water in a number of ways by using optical as well as active and passive microwave sensors. In this review, we look at the proceedings within this discipline by reviewing 233 scientific works. We provide an extensive overview of used sensors, the spatial and temporal resolution of studies, their thematic foci, and their spatial distribution. We observe that a wide array of available sensors and datasets, along with increasing computing capacities, have shaped the field over the last years. Multiple global analysis-ready products are available for investigating surface water area dynamics, but so far none offer high spatial and temporal resolution.
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