The detection and monitoring of surface water and its extent are critical for understanding floodwater hazards. Flooding and undermining caused by surface water flow can result in damage to critical infrastructure and changes in ecosystems. Along major transportation corridors, such as railways, even small bodies of water can pose significant hazards resulting in eroded or washed out tracks. In this study, heterogeneous data from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite missions, optical satellite-based imagery and airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) were fused for surface water detection. Each dataset was independently classified for surface water and then fused classification models of the three datasets were created. A multi-level decision tree was developed to create an optimal water mask by minimizing the differences between models originating from single datasets. Results show a water classification uncertainty of 4–9% using the final fused models compared to 17–23% uncertainty using single polarization SAR. Of note is the use of a high resolution LiDAR digital elevation model (DEM) to remove shadow and layover effects in the SAR observations, which reduces overestimation of surface water with growing vegetation. Overall, the results highlight the advantages of fusing multiple heterogeneous remote sensing techniques to detect surface water in a predominantly natural landscape.
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