Groundwater-fed lakes in northeastern Germany are characterized by significant lake level changes, but for only a few lakes are in situ
water level measurements available. In this study, we test the potential of RapidEye satellite images for indirectly reconstructing lake level changes. The lake levels are derived by intersecting water-land borders with a high-resolution digital elevation model (DEM). Based on Lake Fürstenseer (LF), we define requirements and limitations of the method. Water-land borders were extracted automatically from the 37 RapidEye images available for the period between 2009 and 2014. Otsu
’s threshold was used for the NIR band and for the normalized difference water index (NDWI). The results were validated with in situ
gauging, contour lines from the DEM, and in situ
Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) measurements of the shoreline. Using an ideal shoreline subset, the lake levels could be reconstructed with decimeter accuracy using the NIR water-land border, but the levels were systematically underestimated by 0–20 cm. The accuracy of the reconstructed lake level retrieval strongly depends on the precision of the water-land border retrieval, on the accuracy of the DEM, and on the lake level itself. A clear shift of the water-land border with increasing lake level is also essential for the unambiguous reconstruction of different levels. This shift needs to be several times larger than the pixel size. The biggest challenges for lake level reconstruction are the presence of vegetation at the shorelines, the quality of the topographic data in the underwater area, the slope of the shoreline, and shadows in combination with low solar angles.
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