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In this chapter planners are presented with (1) terms and concepts related to flooding and the nature of areas subject to recurring floods; (2) critical issues to be addressed when considering flood hazards in the development planning process; (3) a technique for using remote sensing data for flood hazard assessments: and (4) two case studies describing the use of remote sensing data to define floodplain areas.

Floodplains are land areas adjacent to rivers and streams that are subject to recurring inundation. Owing to their continually changing nature, floodplains and other flood-prone areas need to be examined in the light of how they might affect or be affected by development. This chapter presents an overview of the important concepts related to flood hazard assessments and explores the use of remote sensing data from satellites to supplement traditional assessment techniques.

The primary objective of remote sensing methods for mapping flood-prone areas in developing countries is to provide planners and disaster management institutions with a practical and cost-effective way to identify floodplains and other susceptible areas and to assess the extent of disaster impact. The method presented in this chapter can be used in sectoral planning activities and integrated planning studies, and for damage assessment.

The satellite remote sensing method presented in this chapter is one of many flood hazard assessment techniques that are available. This method has the following characteristics:

- It uses remote sensing data covering single or multiple dates or events.

- It permits digital (by computer) or photo-optical (film positive or negative) analysis.

- It is best used as a complement to other available hydrologic and climatic data.

- It is useful in preliminary assessments during the early stages of a development planning study because of the small-to-intermediate scale of the information produced and the ability to meet cost and time constraints. The data may also be applicable to other aspects of the study.


1. Floods, Floodplains, and Flood-Prone Areas
2. Flood Hazard Assessment
3. Land Surface Characteristics Related to Floods

This section is designed to provide the planner with background information on the nature of floods and the terms and concepts associated with assessing the risks from this natural hazard.

1. Floods, Floodplains, and Flood-Prone Areas

Flooding is a natural and recurring event for a river or stream. Statistically, streams will equal or exceed the mean annual flood once every 2.33 years (Leopold et al., 1964). Flooding is a result of heavy or continuous rainfall exceeding the absorptive capacity of soil and the flow capacity of rivers, streams, and coastal areas. This causes a watercourse to overflow its banks onto adjacent lands. Floodplains are, in general, those lands most subject to recurring floods, situated adjacent to rivers and streams. Floodplains are therefore "flood-prone" and are hazardous to development activities if the vulnerability of those activities exceeds an acceptable level.

Floodplains can be looked at from several different perspectives: 'To define a floodplain depends somewhat on the goals in mind. As a topographic category it is quite flat and lies adjacent to a stream; geomorphologically, it is a landform composed primarily of unconsolidated depositional material derived from sediments being transported by the related stream; hydrologically, it is best defined as a landform subject to periodic flooding by a parent stream. A combination of these [characteristics] perhaps comprises the essential criteria for defining the floodplain" (Schmudde, 1968). Most simply, a flood-plain is defined as "a strip of relatively smooth land bordering a stream and overflowed [sic] at a time of high water" (Leopold et al, 1964).

Floods are usually described in terms of their statistical frequency. A "100-year flood" or "100-year floodplain" describes an event or an area subject to a 1% probability of a certain size flood occurring in any given year. For example, Figure 8-1 shows this frequency in terms of flood levels and floodplains. This concept does not mean such a flood will occur only once in one hundred years. Whether or not it occurs in a given year has no bearing on the fact that there is still a 1% chance of a similar occurrence in the following year. Since floodplains can be mapped, the boundary of the 100-year flood is commonly used in floodplain mitigation programs to identify areas where the risk of flooding is significant. Any other statistical frequency of a flood event may be chosen depending on the degree of risk that is selected for evaluation, e.g., 5-year, 20-year, 50-year, 500-year floodplain.

Frequency of inundation depends on the climate, the material that makes up the banks of the stream, and the channel slope. Where substantial rainfall occurs in a particular season each year, or where the annual flood is derived principally from snowmelt, the floodplain may be inundated nearly every year, even along large streams with very small channel slopes. In regions without extended periods of below-freezing temperatures, floods usually occur in the season of highest precipitation. Where most floods are the result of snowmelt, often accompanied by rainfall, the flood season is spring or early summer.

2. Flood Hazard Assessment

Gathering hydrologic data directly from rivers and streams is a valuable but time-consuming effort. If such dynamic data have been collected for many years through stream gauging, models can be used to determine the statistical frequency of given flood events, thus determining their probability. However, without a record of at least twenty years, such assessments are difficult.

In many countries, stream-gauging records are insufficient or absent. As a result, flood hazard assessments based on direct measurements may not be possible, because there is no basis to determine the specific flood levels and recurrence intervals for given events. Hazard assessments based on remote sensing data, damage reports, and field observations can substitute when quantitative data are scarce. They present mapped information defining flood-prone areas which will probably be inundated by a flood of a specified interval (Riggs, 1985). The approximation of a flood-prone area on a map is shown in Figure 8-2.

Traditional as well as more recent approaches to gathering and analyzing the necessary information are discussed in Section C., Flood Hazard Mapping Techniques and Application of Satellite Data.

3. Land Surface Characteristics Related to Floods

a. Changing Nature of Floodplains
b. Frequency of Flooding
c. Length of Inundation
d. Effects of Development Practices on Flooding and Floodplains, and the Role of Mitigation

Regional development planning should be concerned with the following land-surface characteristics related to floods:

- Topography or slope of the land, especially its flatness;

- Geomorphology, type and quality of soils, especially unconsolidated fluvial deposit base material; and

- Hydrology and the extent of recurring flooding.

These characteristics are commonly considered in natural resource evaluation activities (OAS, 1984). The questions the planning study needs answered are: "How hazardous is the study area for recurring flooding?" and "What is the vulnerability of existing and proposed development activities?" One of the first steps of a planning study is to gather all available information concerning these characteristics and recommend the installation of stream gauges and hydrometeorological stations in regions proposed for development, if they are not already present.

a. Changing Nature of Floodplains

Floodplains are neither static nor stable. Composed of unconsolidated sediments, they are rapidly eroded during floods and high flows of water, or they may be the site on which new layers of mud, sand, and silt are deposited. As such, the river may change its course and shift from one side of the floodplain to the other. Figure 8-3 portrays this dynamic pattern whereby the river channel may change within the broader floodplain and the floodplain may be periodically modified by floods as the channel migrates back and forth across the it.

Floodplain width is a function of the size of the stream, the rates of downcutting, the channel slope, and the hardness of the channel wall. Floodplains are uncommon in headwater channels because the stream is small, the slopes and rate of downcutting are high, and the valley walls are often exposed bedrock.

In moderately small streams the floodplain is commonly found only on the inside of a bend (meander), but the location of the floodplain alternates from side to side as the stream meanders from one side of the valley to the other.




Source: Adapted from Strahler, A.N. and Strahler. A.H. Environmental Geoscience: Interaction between Natural Systems and Man. (Santa Barbara, California: Hamilton Publishing Co., 1973).


- Where the floodplain and flood-prone areas are.
- How often the floodplain will be covered by water.
- How long the floodplain will be covered by water.
- At what time of year flooding can be expected.


Larger streams, particularly those with low channel slopes, develop broad floodplains. As these plains develop, the sideward migration of the river channel produces oxbow lakes, sloughs, natural levees, and backswamp deposits that are disconnected from the present channel. If a river carries fairly coarse sediment during a flood, it tends to be deposited along the channel bank as a natural levee. This may result in the formation of a perched channel where the channel bottom is continually raised to a point where it may actually be higher than the surrounding topography. This condition can result in surface water elevations contained within the channel being considerably higher than the land surface elevations immediately outside these levees, which results in a flooding potential that is much worse than that in the typical situation where the channel is at the bottom of a U-shaped cross section of the floodplain.

These features change with time. Widening of a river channel and destruction of part of the floodplain by major floods is common and has been observed in semiarid regions. As is the case with these regions having a high erosion potential, the phenomenon of channel migration during flooding events will often cause a large portion of flood waters to be carried in a channel that did not exist prior to the onset of the flooding event. This phenomenon occurs all too frequently in arid regions, where high velocity flood waters make drastic changes in the channel configuration during the flooding event. This can cause the area of inundation to be considerably different than in its original state.

Channel mobility can be an important characteristic when trying to delineate the potential floodplain. While mobility is not much of a problem in areas with dense vegetation and consolidated soil types, in areas where the vegetation is sparse and soil types are coarse and erodible, mapping of the floodplain must include anticipation of the possibility of channel migration in addition to the existing channel configuration.

A major flood in a humid region is less likely to cause channel widening and floodplain destruction, because vegetation inhibits erosion. However, the flood may cut secondary channels through a floodplain and deposit sand and gravel over large areas, particularly those dedicated to agricultural production.

Terraces along a channel may be mistaken for a floodplain. In fact, some terraces may have been floodplain boundaries prior to renewed downcutting or tectonic activity. A terrace can usually be distinguished from an active floodplain by the type of vegetation and the surface material present.

Natural events such as landslides (see Chapter 10), volcanic-ash drop, lahars, and debris slides (see Chapter 11) can increase the amount of sediment available for transport by a stream. Sediments from these events may be deposited both in the channel and on the floodplain. This can result in the channel filling with debris and reducing the capacity of the channel to hold water. The reduction in channel capacity, although it may be temporary, can result in more frequent inundation of the floodplain and contribute to its modification.

b. Frequency of Flooding

Generally, only annual floods are used in a probability analysis, and the recurrence interval-the reciprocal of probability-is substituted for probability. The annual flood is usually considered the single greatest event each year. The 10-year flood, for example, is the discharge that will exceed a certain volume which has a 10% probability of occurring each year.

The floodplains of some streams, however, are inundated infrequently, at intervals of 10 years or more. Several reasons have been proposed to explain this. In some climates, several years of intense flood activity are followed by many years in which few floods occur. The floodplain may be developed and occupied during the years with the least flood activity. As a result, this development is subject to the risk of flooding as the cycle of flooding returns. Development activity, particularly deforestation and intensive crop production, may drastically change runoff conditions, thereby increasing stream flow during normal rainfall cycles and thus increasing the risk of flooding. More intensive use of the floodplain, even under strict management, almost always results in increased runoff rates. Effects of development practices on the risk of flooding are discussed below.

c. Length of Inundation

The length of time that a floodplain is inundated depends on the size of the stream, the channel slope, and the climatic characteristics. On small streams, floods induced by rainfall usually last from only a few hours to a few days, but on large rivers flood runoff may exceed channel capacity for a month or more. In 1982-83, the Parana River Basin in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina was subject to extensive flooding from late November 1982 through mid-1983. The duration of a flood from tropical storms or snowmelts may inundate a floodplain several times during a single month.

Water on the floodplain usually drains back to the channel as the channel flow recedes. On the wide floodplains of large rivers bordered by natural levees, the water may drain back slowly, causing local inundation or pounding which may last for months. It is eventually disposed of by downstream drainage, water infiltration into the soil, and evapotranspiration. Where channels are perched due to repeated deposition of sediment, flood waters may never drain back to the channel since that channel bottom is higher than the adjacent floodplain.

d. Effects of Development Practices on Flooding and Floodplains, and the Role of Mitigation

People have been lured to floodplains since ancient times, first by the rich alluvial soil, later by the need for access to water supplies, water transportation, and power development, and later still as a relegated locus for urbanization, particularly for low income families. How the land is used and developed can change the risks resulting from floods. While some activities can be designed to mitigate the effects of flooding, many current practices and structures have unwittingly increased the flood risk.

In a humid climate during a major flood, a considerable part of the flow of a stream with a wide floodplain is carried by that floodplain. Clearing the floodplain for agriculture permits a progressively higher percentage of a large flood discharge to be carried by the floodplain. Some parts of the floodplain are eroded and other parts are built up by deposition of coarse sediment, while the channel capacity of the river channel is gradually reduced.

Drainage and irrigation ditches, as well as water diversions, can alter the discharge into floodplains and the channel's capacity to carry the discharge. The effects of agricultural and crop practices vary and depend upon the local soils, geology, climate, vegetation, and water management practices. In many countries agriculture dominates the use of land on floodplains. Where floods are seasonal, crops may be selected that can withstand floods of short duration and low volume during the flood season. Less resistant crops may be grown in the nonflood season.

Forest vegetation in general increases rainfall and evaporation while it absorbs moisture and lessens runoff. Deforestation or logging practices will reduce the vegetation and a forest's absorption capacity, thus increasing runoff. Overgrazing in grassland or rangeland areas decreases the vegetation cover and exposes soil to erosion as well as increased runoff. Cropland development may or may not increase runoff, depending on the land's prior use and the type of cropping patterns utilized.

Large dams affect the river channel both upstream and downstream from the dam and reservoir. Evaporation increases as a result of the expanded surface area of the reservoir, and this process tends to degrade the water quality. The reservoir acts as a sediment trap and the channel below the dam will regrade itself to accommodate the change in sediment load, as shown in Figure 8-4. The water, now with little sediment, scours the downstream channel.

Dams may also increase ground-water recharge. They may raise the water table and even induce ground-water discharge into adjacent channels, thereby modifying stream discharge rates. Catastrophic dam failure produces a rapid loss of water from the reservoir and an instantaneously severe and dramatic change downstream.

Urbanization of a floodplain or adjacent areas and its attendant construction increases runoff and the rate of runoff because it reduces the amount of surface land area available to absorb rainfall and channels its flow into sewers and drainage ways much more quickly. Changes in the runoff are shown symbolically in Figure 8-5, where the runoff time is shortened and the discharge rate increases. Artificial fill in the floodplain reduces the flood channel capacity and can increase the flood height. Thus, the risk of flooding is increased, as shown in Figure 8-1.



(1) Original slope with no development.

(2) Accumulation of sediment (cross section A-A) or deepening of channel (cross section B-B) after dam.

Source: Adapted from Strahler, A.N. Planet Earth: Its Physical System Through Geological Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).

In summary, floodplain dynamics are basic considerations to be incorporated in an integrated development planning study. It is essential that the study recognize that changes brought on by development can and will affect the floodplain in a multitude of ways. Early review of available flood hazard information and the programming of complementary flood hazard assessments are prudent and allow the planner to foresee and evaluate potential problems related to river hydraulics and floodplain dynamics. Then, mitigation measures can be identified to avoid or minimize these hazards and can be incorporated into the formulation of specific sectoral investment projects.


1. Determining Acceptable Risk
2. Satellite Remote Sensing Methods Applied to Flood Hazards
3. Integrating Remote Sensing Flood Information into a Development Planning Study

Remote sensing technology can be especially useful and desirable when applied during the planning process. With remote sensing methods, the extent of floodplains and flood-prone areas can be approximated at small to intermediate map scales (up to 1:50,000) over entire river basins. Flood hazard maps can be prepared early in a development planning study to aid in defining and selecting mitigation measures for proposed sectoral development projects. In addition to discerning the risks of flooding, the same satellite data can be used to assess other hydrologic and atmospheric hazards as well as geologic and technological hazards. Furthermore, this satellite information can provide natural resource and land-use information at a small incremental cost once the basic data (computer compatible tapes [CCTs] or film image positives or negatives) are acquired.

It must be emphasized, however, that remote sensing technology is a tool, one of many that are employed by planners today. Application of this technology does not solve problems, but it can provide a planning study with recent, historical, and repetitive information. A detailed discussion of the application of various remote sensing technologies to natural hazard assessments can be found in Chapter 4.


Source: Adapted from Strahler, A.N., and Strahler, A.H. Environmental Geoscience: Interaction Between Natural Systems and Man (Santa Barbara, California, U.S.A.: Hamilton Publishing Co., 1973); and Riggs, H.C. Streamflow Characteristics (New York, U.S.A.: Elsevier, 1985).

1. Determining Acceptable Risk

Delineating floodplains and other areas subject to flooding is valuable input for proposing compatible development activities. Failure to understand the nature of flood hazards and to comprehend that they are not necessarily random in time and space, but are in fact roughly predictable conforming to statistical probability, can bring about increased flood risk. The planner should seek the contribution of a variety of disciplines to assess the risk of proposed activities. These concepts are more fully discussed later in this chapter.

Development planners need to know how often, on the average, the flood plain will be covered by water, for how long, and at what time of year. Natural changes as well as changes brought on by development activities affect the floodplain and must be understood to identify appropriate development and natural resource management practices. Changes in floodplain utilization-such as urbanization and more intensive agricultural production-can increase runoff and subsequent flood levels. It is critical for the planner to appreciate these and other effects of land-use change. Early consultation with water resource and management specialists during the planning study is prudent, for it enables the planner to foresee and evaluate potential conflicts between present and proposed land use and their relationship to flood events and the hazards they may pose. See chapter 3 for a discussion of these conflicts.

Acceptable risk criteria can help in distinguishing between different degrees of risk for different development activities and in evaluating constraints associated with potential investment projects. The chosen acceptable frequency of a particular flood event should be appropriate for the type of development activity. For example, it may well be worth the risk of occasional flooding to plant crops in the floodplain where soils are enriched by cyclical flooding and the deposition of sediments. Resulting sand and gravel deposits may lead to commercial exploitation. On the other hand, it is more appropriate to site a large agroindustrial or housing project in an area with a very small probability of a large flood occurring each year (see Chapter 2).

What is the probability that the floodplain will be the site for the next flood event? Will topsoil and bank erosion proceed slowly or at an accelerated rate? Where will erosion be the greatest? Will deposition occur and enlarge the floodplain? What criteria will be used for determining the level of acceptable flood risks based on the expected project life, affected population, available insurance programs, building codes, zoning laws, and other legislation? The planner, while not a technical expert in all these fields, must know to ask the pertinent questions which will be answered by those who are.

2. Satellite Remote Sensing Methods Applied to Flood Hazards

Floodplain mapping techniques are either dynamic or static methods. Many traditional techniques are dynamic: they monitor the continuous change in river or stream flow and require considerable field work and maintenance of long-term records. Some traditional dynamic techniques utilize regression analysis and rainfall estimates derived from models in which long-term records are transferred from similar basins or reaches in a given region. Though these methods do require the application of some records, they may be used where long-term records do not exist for the particular stream or river under study. In any event, the principal objectives of using dynamic techniques are to calculate the return period or frequency of particular flood events and to determine stream flow and flood-level characteristics. These are important for the planner to know in order to adequately weigh the risk of development in a floodplain.

Flood inundation and floodplain maps have been prepared from satellite data for more than a decade by hydrologists all over the world. These are considered static techniques since they characterize the area at a particular point in time. While a dynamic long-term flood history is desirable, such static techniques are capable of yielding useful information for flood hazard assessment, especially in the diagnostic and preliminary stages of an integrated development planning study. In the absence of information from dynamic techniques, it is possible to estimate the probability of a flood event occurrence when information from static techniques is combined with historical flood observations, disaster reports, and basic natural resource information, particularly hydrologic data. Flood event frequency estimates, particularly for an extreme event, is valuable information to the planning study. Figure 8-6 shows the relationship of satellite remote sensing data and other flood hazard information to the information used in the integrated development planning process.

While inexpensive photo-optical processing techniques of satellite data are still valid, the increasing price and decreasing availability of film imagery, and innovative use of digital-to-analog data processing, make computer-assisted analysis a viable option. The commonly used Landsat Multispectral Scanner (MSS) data and the high-resolution Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and SPOT High Resolution Visible Range (HRV) data with the potential for larger scale mapping are examples. Also, the small-scale resolution but synoptic regional coverage provided by the NOAA satellite series carrying the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) provides a highly informative aid to planners in determining the extent of flood events.


3. Integrating Remote Sensing Flood Information into a Development Planning Study

a. Preliminary Mission
b. Phase I
c. Phase II
d. Project Implementation

One of the requirements of an integrated development planning study is to develop a clear definition of the study area and a sense of the region's general development situation (see Chapter 1). The relationship of the region's natural goods, services, and its hazards and current natural resource management practices should be put in the context of affected ecosystems (OAS, 1984).

In order to integrate flood plain information into a planning study, the definition of floodplains and flood-prone areas and the probability of a given event occurring during the lifetime of a development project should be determined. This information will assist in making decisions about whether or not a certain level of risk is acceptable. It is important to bear in mind that floodplain and flood hazard maps are not intended to be substitutes for, but rather precursors to, engineering design studies.

A variety of mitigation measures can be identified and selected which will reduce or minimize the impact of flooding. Such mitigation measures include adopting land-use classification and zoning systems, building codes, taxation, and insurance programs, in addition to the prevalent "user beware" approaches.

a. Preliminary Mission

All available flood-related information should be gathered during the preliminary mission of the planning study. It is expected that the initial information collected would be general and based on existing hydrologic and precipitation data, satellite imagery, aerial photography, damage assessments, and scientific and engineering studies. Figure 8-7 outlines the relationship of flood information and a flood hazard assessment to general development activities. Selected critical study sub-areas should be identified, and the preparation of additional flood hazard information should be designed into subsequent study activities.

Remote sensing technology can and should play an important role in the design of the planning study. Figure 8-8 provides an overview of the source, scales, and application of remote sensing data for each stage of the study. Map scales of collected information will no doubt vary. Small scale satellite image maps complement traditional thematic maps with synoptic spatial information that can be used as a basis for a regional assessment of the hydrologic regimen, including floodplain definition for major river valleys. Indeed, state-of-the-art technology now permits preparation of thematic image map within U.S. national map accuracy standards for scales as large as 1:50,000.



- What type and content of flood hazard information is available for the study area (historical event accounts; disaster and damage reports; hazard, risk, vulnerability analysis)?

- Will additional information be needed? If so, what type? When?

- Will remote sensing data be used? If so, what system and what type of product?


- What complementary information or studies and data analysis equipment will be needed to fully utilize the remote sensing data?

- At what stage will the flood hazard assessment be done? At what cost and during what time period?

- What expertise will be needed to do the assessment? For which areas? How will the assessment information be used?

- To what other activities can the remote sensing data be applied?



Application of Remote Sensing Data to Study Stages

Satellite Data Source

Nominal Pixel Resolution

Mapping Scale





- Synoptic overview of entire region

Lands at MSS



- Complement small-scale regional maps with color-coded feature depiction

- Spatial resolution of study area and resource management issues to broader ecosystem context


- Diagnoses:

Lands at MSS



Natural resource evaluation

Landsat TM



Ecosystem framework

Identification of priority areas

Floodplain mapping

Landsat MSS


1:50,000 a/

Flood hazard delineation

Landsat TM




- Spatial information for:




Floodplain management




Flood mitigation measure selection


- Aid to communications with and among activities in:

All available sources including experimental systems, e.g. Seasat, Space Shuttle, Nimbus



Investment project execution


Project management and operation

Emergency preparedness

Disaster relief

- Reports

- Technical and administrative briefings

- Seminars

a/Mapping at scales as large as 1:50,000 can be accomplished when Landsat MSS and TM data film transparency products are used in conjunction with topographic base maps and field verification.



- Do flood events and the hazards they pose present a significant variable in determining a development strategy and identifying projects? For which sectors?

- Can non-structural mitigation measures be included as part of the development strategy? Which ones?

- Do flood events pose specific risks to existing or proposed development projects? Is it likely that structural mitigation measures will have to be considered?


- Are modifications needed in the original design of the additional flood hazard assessment? Who will make them? How will they be made and implemented?

- What mechanisms will be used to incorporate the assessment information into the overall study activities?

- How and by whom will flood hazard assessment information be summarized for the study documents?

- Will additional flood hazard assessment studies be needed for investment project formulation

b. Phase I

Phase I of a planning study mandates the diagnosis of a region, which specifically includes spatial and natural resource analyses. SPOT sensors and Landsat MSS and TM sensors are designed to provide data directly relevant to these requirements. Landsat and SPOT data provide up-to-date natural resource and land-use information in spatial, map-compatible forms. Landsat MSS data, which have been collected over most land areas of the world intermittently since 1972, provide the best and most readily obtainable record of floodplains and land-use changes caused by floods, sediment deposition, and human activity.

Landsat TM and SPOT HRV imagery can be effectively used to map floodplains accurately at scales as large as 1:50,000 and to convey the idea that the river meanders across the floodplain. Satellite imagery is especially useful to update existing floodplain and flood hazard maps, particularly for those areas which are highly dynamic in nature. Satellite image maps provide clear, visible evidence to managers that floodplains are dynamic areas and should be studied in conjunction with other thematic maps to identify applicable mitigation measures.

Information from floodplain maps can be used in the preparation of land-use and land-capability maps at this stage (see Chapter 3). The areas inside the floodplains are subject to both floods and river channel meandering. Proposed crop production and construction of irrigation infrastructure, culverts, bridges, roads, and other permanent structures must be studied to evaluate their flood risk. Similarly, the flood hazard information is critically important in planning urban, industrial, recreational, tourism, and parkland development.

c. Phase II

Phase II in the execution of a planning study calls for the formulation of projects and preparation of an action plan. Natural resource management planning should include a precise delineation of floodplains and related hydrologic hazards at map scales suitable for the formulation of projects. Floodplain management, flood prevention, and flood mitigation measures (both structural and non-structural) should be included if they are not already part of the project formulation activities. Several alternative mitigation measures are listed in the box below.


Modify Hazard: dams, catchment areas, retention ponds, high flow diversions, cropping patterns, reforestation.

Modify Water Courses: dikes, levees, channeling, stream rectification, erosion control, drainage systems.

Modify Structures: building elevation or strengthening, flood proofing.

Modify Land Use; use zones, subdivision regulations, sanitary and water-well regulations, development restrictions, easements and setbacks, floodplain management taxation.

Insurance: flood insurance programs.

Forecast, Warning and Emergency Systems: flood monitoring, alert systems, evacuation and rescue plans, shelter and emergency relief



- Is the available flood hazard assessment information sufficient to adequately formulate investment projects? If not, will additional assessment activities take place within or outside of the planning study?

- What remote sensing systems will be used, and will the data provide additional information for other study activities?


- How and by whom will flood hazard mitigation information be prepared for planning study documents?

- What complementary activities will the study team carry out to maximize the use of the flood hazard assessment and mitigation information with emergency planning and disaster relief institutions

The planner and/or remote sensing specialist should confer with the sectoral project specialists concerning flood hazard issues related to both the overall study area and the specific site in order to determine the nature and scope of the problem and the information obtained from the analysis of remote sensing data. Since engineering studies for infrastructure and large structure design invariably require a high degree of detail, high-resolution data-both spatial and spectral-may be required. The SPOT HRV and Landsat 4 and 5 TM sensors are currently the best available sources of high-resolution data and should be considered for use as the basic data in preparing large-scale maps for flood risk assessments.

d. Project Implementation

Data products such as photographs, film positives, and slides derived from satellite imagery are also used in the implementation stage of floodplain-related projects. They are widely used and quite effective as documents for presentations and mass media communication, and as a common reference for the various affected agencies. They can be used to explain to the public, the media, and funding organizations the need for mitigation measures, the nature and locations of the project to be implemented, and the benefits to be derived. Further, they can be valuable in preparing updated maps in the future and by serving as a time-sensitive source of information to monitor the project. Finally, they provide excellent background material for technical and administrative briefings and seminars with national and local government officials involved in project decision making. In the project-implementation stage, where effective communications are required at all levels-planning, funding, management, and field operations-all types of satellite data collected and assembled at all scales will become increasingly valuable as users become familiar with the characteristics, information content, applicability, and use of the data.


- How wilt flood hazard assessment and mitigation information be used in project funding approval and execution activities?

- Are there provisions for dissemination of remote-sensing data, control of their use, and periodic updating?

- How will existing or proposed geographic information systems (G18) use remote 1 sensing data, and how will it be entered, used, Stored, and updated on an ongoing basis?


- Who will be responsible for incorporating flood hazard assessment and mitigation Information into the project funding and execution activities?

- Which institution will be responsible for entering, storing, and retrieving the data and information

It should also be emphasized that once the implementation stage is reached, information generated from field studies and engineering design activities should include a flood frequency analysis, if it is not already available by this time. Such information is a critical component of a risk analysis, and without it the usefulness of floodplain delineation information is greatly diminished.


1. Traditional Techniques of Floodplain Mapping
2. Remote Sensing Techniques for Floodplain Mapping
3. Photo-Optical Method for Initial Floodplain Delineation and Flood Hazard Assessment

Traditionally, gathering and analyzing hydrologic data related to floodplains and flood-prone areas has been a time-consuming effort requiring extensive field observations and calculations. This traditional approach uses historical data of flood events to delineate the extent and recurrence interval of flooding.

With the development of remote sensing and computer analysis techniques, now traditional sources can be supplemented with these new methods of acquiring quantitative and qualitative flood hazard information. This static approach uses indicators of flood susceptibility to assess an area's flood proneness (Sellers et al, 1978). Both of these approaches are discussed below.

1. Traditional Techniques of Floodplain Mapping

Conventional dynamic flood frequency analysis techniques have been developed to quantitatively assess flood hazards over the past half century. These traditional techniques yield dynamic historical flood data which, when available, is used to accurately map floodplains. In addition to a record of peak flows over a period of years (frequency analysis), a detailed survey (cross sections, slopes and contour maps) along with hydraulic roughness estimates is required before the extent of flooding for an expected recurrence interval can be determined. In traditional floodplain mapping, the requisite data and maps include the following:

- The selected base (topographic) map with the surface water system

- Hydrologic data:

* Frequency analysis (including river discharge and historical flood data)
* Flood inundation maps
* Flood frequency and damage reports, etc.
* Stage-area curves
* Slope maps
* Cross sections
* Hydraulic roughness

- Related maps such as soils, physiography, geology, hydrology, land use, vegetation, population density, infrastructure, and settlements.

This dynamic approach requires extensive long term field surveys, with a network of gauging stations that can develop the data needed for precise risk assessments. Such extensive long term information is seldom available for river systems in less developed countries. To obtain hydrologic data, one must contact the appropriate hydrometeorological agencies of government to secure available data and maps (see Appendix A). Soils maps and geological maps often delineate floodplains. Topographic maps at suitable scales for the project should be available within the country. What is more readily available is information derived from static techniques which are capable of yielding information on flood hazard assessment.

2. Remote Sensing Techniques for Floodplain Mapping

a. Floodplain and Flood-Related Changes Detected by Remote Sensing
b. Selection of Satellite Data

For large areas, such as major river valleys, time and funds available are often limited. Therefore, it is usually not possible to conduct expensive detailed hydrologic data gathering, analysis, and mapping activities during a planning study (OAS, 1969 and 1984). Remote sensing technology, especially space technology, now provides an economically feasible alternative means of supplementing traditional hydrologic data sources. These static techniques provide pictures of an area that can be analyzed for certain flood-related characteristics and can be compared to images from an earlier or later date to determine changes in the study area.

Remote sensing methods require a platform such as a satellite (e.g., Landsat) or an aircraft, plus a sensor such as an MSS on the platform. Satellite imagery can be acquired in digital (CCT) or analog (film) formats. Digital data may not be an alternative because of the expense and requirement for sophisticated computer hardware and software. Therefore, the focus of the method presented here is to provide a technique which uses original or raw film data for floodplain mapping and floodplain hazard assessments. The concept of preprocessing CCTs is also discussed below since it is feasible to acquire digitally enhanced film products for these applications.

Flood-inundation and flood hazard maps have been prepared by many hydrologists all over the world from aircraft and satellite data, mostly from the visible and infrared bands (Deutsch, 1974). A few hydrologists have used thermal infrared data to map flooded areas (Wiesnet et al., 1974, and Berg et al., 1981).

Satellite data can be used to find indicators of floodplains, and may be easier to use than aircraft images in delineating floodplains (Sellers et al., 1978). Computer-enhanced information from aerial photography or a combination of this with satellite imagery has been used. Digitized color-infrared aerial photographs to classify vegetation that correlates with floodplains have also been used (Marker and Rouse, 1977). Landsat digital data have also been combined with digital elevation data to develop stage-area relationships of flood-prone areas (Struve, 1979). A comprehensive reference for satellite remote sensing techniques relating to water resources is Satellite Hydrology (Deutsch, 1981), which has more than 100 papers on the subject.


The history of the development of conventional flood frequency | techniques and illustrations of the technique are well documented in "Bulletin No. 17B, Guidelines for Determining Flood Flow Frequency" by the United States Water Resources Council, Hydrology Committee (Washington, D.C.: Revised September, 1981).

For guidance in the estimation of flood water surface elevation, the "Flood Water Surface Elevation Determination Manual," prepared by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (Salem, Oregon: December, 1984), should be consulted. It presents a simplified method for flood profile generation. While the method does require some form of historical data, it demonstrates that there are methods that can be used by non-engineering staff to estimate floodplains without the use of computer models


- Upland physiography;
- Watershed characteristics such as shape, drainage density, etc.;
- Degree of abandonment of natural levees;
- Occurrence of stabilized sand dunes on river terraces;
- Channel configuration and fluvial geomorphic characteristics;
- Backswamp areas;
- Soil-moisture availability (also a short-term indicator of flood susceptibility);
- Soil differences;
- Vegetation differences;
- Land-use boundaries;
- Agricultural development; and
- Flood alleviation measures on the floodplain.

From Rango and Anderson, 1974.

a. Floodplain and Flood-Related Changes Detected by Remote Sensing

Floods, hydraulic forces, engineering structures, and development on the floodplain can and do result in physical changes in the river channel, sedimentation patterns, and flood boundaries, as discussed earlier in this chapter. It is very costly to continually update maps to accurately depict these changing conditions. Satellite imagery can provide a record of changes to complement maps and conventional point source data. Hence, up-to-date satellite imagery of the study area can be compared with previously collected data to determine changes during specific time periods. Similarly, in mapping a flood using satellite imagery, the inundated area can be compared with a map of the area under preflood conditions.

The flood often leaves its imprint or "signature" on the surface in the form of soil moisture anomalies, pounded areas, soil scours, stressed vegetation, debris lines, and other indicators of the flooded area for days, or even weeks, after the flood waters have receded. Figure 8-9 lists the suggested bands and spectral composites of the various satellite systems for analysis of floodplains and related hydrologic features.

It should be noted that delineation of floodplains using remote sensing data cannot, by itself, be directly related to any return period. However, when it is used in conjunction with other information, the delineated floodplain can be related to an estimated or calculated event. This static method can reveal an area's flood proneness and yield information useful for a flood hazard assessment.

b. Selection of Satellite Data

A critical but generally underestimated requirement for effective use of satellite imagery in flood hazard assessments is the selection of data. A number of sensors on board Earth observation satellites have provided data suitable for mapping floodplains and areas inundated by floods. The sensing systems and observation satellites which have been in operation for the longest period of time are the MSS on all five of the Landsat series and the AVHRR on the current NOAA satellite series. More recent sensing systems and satellites include the TM on Landsat 4 and 5 and the SPOT satellite with HRV sensors (see Chapter 4 for more information and characteristics of each system). Each system has its spatial, spectral, and temporal advantages and limitations (see the box below for a summary of these).

Other remote sensing systems such as those found on the U.S. Nimbus and Seasat satellites and the Space Shuttle have been used experimentally, but their coverage is sporadic. (See Chapter 4 for a discussion of the application of these and other remote sensing systems).

Landsat, NOAA, and SPOT satellites collect data in a digital mode. The data products can be purchased as CCTs or in analog form as photographic prints or film transparencies. SPOT and Landsat program film product costs are such that the cost of producing thematically enhanced photo-optical data products for specific applications such as floodplain delineation and flood mapping now approaches the cost of digital image processing.


- LANDSAT MSS: provides data for relatively small-scale mapping (1:1,000,000 -1:100,000), with coverage only once every 16 days in 4 spectral bands.

- LANDSAT TM: data are collected with the same frequency as MSS data in six of seven solar reflective spectral bands (1,2,3,4,5, and 7) and is suitable for larger scale mapping (up to 1:50,000).

- NOAA AVHRR; provides multispectral coverage four times each day (two daytime and two nighttime) but produces data adequate for only small-scale mapping (1:3,000,000 -1:500,000); most useful in delineating maximum flood coverage of surface areas.

- SPOT HRV: the SPOT satellite HRV sensors provide data for relatively large-scale mapping (up to 1:25,000) from three spectral bands (Multiband [XS] or single band Panchromatic [P]) once every 26 days. It has a pointable sensor mode that can provide data on a more frequent basis.

NOTE: Because the repeat cycle of the Landsat and SPOT systems is greater than 15 days, it is not always possible to collect imagery during peak flooding stages. However, data collected within a period of as much as a month following the flood commonly reveal the extent of the flooded area, due to reflectance differences between the inundated and non-inundated areas.

One limitation found in all of the above sensors is that none provide cloud penetration, which may limit the amount of data available in humid, cloud-covered areas. Since most satellite coverage for a single full scene extends over a large area (usually more than 33,000km2, except for a SPOT scene, which covers approximately 3,600km2), advantages and requirements of each system are important to keep in mind. In deciding on the scale of the base map for the study, which is dependent on the scale of available topographic maps, it is of primary importance to consider the potential use of satellite data.

3. Photo-Optical Method for Initial Floodplain Delineation and Flood Hazard Assessment

Integrated regional development planning studies do not traditionally include original flood hazard assessments but rather depend on existing, available information. As emphasized earlier in this chapter, if such information is needed but is not available, an assessment should be undertaken as part of the study. If time and budget constraints do not permit a detailed, large-scale assessment to be carried out, a floodplain map and a flood hazard assessment can be prepared using the photo-optical method, using Landsat data and the planning study information which is usually available (see Figure 8-6). The advantages of using Landsat data, in addition to those already mentioned, are listed in the box below.

Figure 8-10 presents a diagram of the steps involved in the preparation of Landsat data for use in a flood hazard assessment. In the next section, two case studies demonstrate how Landsat data was actually used for flood hazard assessment.

In mapping floodplains, black-and-white positive film transparencies of Landsat imagery in 70mm format are especially useful for floodplain delineation. Applicable map scales range from 1:1,000,000 to 1:100,000 or larger, depending on the availability of complementary flood hazard assessment and hydrologic information. Their usefulness is achieved through their analysis with a color-additive viewer, which provides the greatest capability and flexibility for optical multispectral (more than one band), multitemporal (scenes from two dates), and multiscale (images with different scales) analysis. If 70mm film products are not available, film positives at 1:1,000,000 can be cut or reduced to 70mm size and used in the color-additive viewer. This technique permits the imagery to be used as a base for producing enlargements of subscenes.


Landsat Multispectral Scanner (MSS)

Single MSS Bands

Principal Features

Landsat 1, 2 & 3

Landsat 4 & 5



Land use, plant vigor and arid physiography



Vegetation distribution and density

Civil engineering works and buildings



Good land-water contrast

Terrain detail



Land-water contrast

Minimum surface-water distribution

Physiographic and terrain distribution

Soil moisture anomalies

MSS Spectral Composites *(more than one band)

Landsat 1,2 & 3

Landsat 4 & 5

4B, 5G, 7R

1B, 2G, 4R

Standard false-color composite

Vegetation appears as red

Surface water appears blue to black

4B, 5R, 7G

1B, 2B, 3G, 4R

Scene brightness increased

Vegetation is degraded, but visible in yellow to brown tones

Surface-water distribution enhanced; excellent for floodplain and wetland mapping **

Soil moisture appears as high-density anomaly

4B, 5B, 6G, 7W

1B, 2B, 3,G ,4W

Maximum scene brightness

Vegetative response in visible bands eliminated

Optimum depiction of physiography

Maximum separation of land and surface water.

Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM)***

Single Bands



Soil/vegetation discrimination

Water detail


Green reflectance by healthy vegetation


Plant species differentiation


Water-body delineation


Vegetation moisture measurements Snow/cloud differentiation


Thermal mapping Floodplain/soil moisture anomalies


Terrain and structure detail

*B = blue-filtered light
G = green-filtered light
R = red-filtered light
W = unfiltered (white) light

** This enhancement was developed for use in floodplain delineation and wetlands assessment of the Paraná River (see Williams, R.S., Jr. "Geological Applications" in Manual of Remote Sensing (2nd ed.), vol. 2, chapter 31 (1983).

*** Adapted from Freden, S.C. and Gordon, F., Jr. "Landsat Satellites" in Manual of Remote Sensing (2nd ed.), vol. 1 (Falls Church, Virginia: American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 1983).



- Flexibility in using either film-positive transparencies or CCTs purchased directly from the satellite data distributor.

- Flexibility in using either a color-additive viewer, photographic laboratory, or computer for image processing, analysis, and composting.

- Ability to concurrently use scenes from two dates for comparing pre-event, event, and post-event situations.

- Flexibility in producing 35mm slides, photographic prints, or film-positive transparencies for use at selected base-map scales.

The photo-optical data-processing method described above has been developed as a low-cost alternative to digital image processing. Digital image processing requires expensive multispectral image analyzers, computers, film writers and appurtenant equipment in addition to a custom photographic laboratory. The advantages, however, in having such a sophisticated capability are listed in the box below.

While data prices vary from source to source and country to country, experience has shown that the per square kilometer cost of data acquisition, analysis, and preparation of analog products may range from U.S. 4 cents using film-positive transparency data format to U.S. 20 cents for CCT data format (1989). A remote sensing specialist familiar with photo-optical or computer-enhanced multispectral analysis systems, in collaboration with other planning studies and with regional complementary information and logistical support, would be able to carry out a flood hazard assessment and prepare a flood plain map for a 30,000-90,000 km2/area at a scale of up to 1:250,000 in approximately a one month time period. Exact time allocation obviously depends on the scale of the final map product to be produced, the density of the surface water system, the topography, and the availability of relevant natural resource and infrastructure maps at appropriate scales.

Many countries do have a color-additive viewer available for photo-optical analysis. Most planning, water, and natural resource agencies, however, do not have adequate funds or the need for a full-time dedicated digital image processing facility for computer-assisted map analysis. If use of such technology is desired, international state-of-the-art digital data processing facilities are recommended. Access to either analysis system can be facilitated by specialists who are familiar with satellite data sources; the selection of available imagery, its purchase and processing; and the analysis of analog products.

A facility equipped with only photo-optical equipment and access to a photographic laboratory can utilize digital image processing by arranging for preprocessing CCTs at a qualified facility. Raw data and enhanced film products can be produced on a custom basis for specific applications and be made in formats compatible with the photo-optical equipment available to the user. Such processing should be performed, if at all possible, by a photograph developing and printing specialist in collaboration with a computer programmer and professionals knowledgeable about the study area.

Conversion from a digital to analog or film mode at an early stage of a project will eliminate the need for a dedicated computer capability at many institutions and at the same time can increase the efficiency of the selected digital image processing facility. The film products produced from the digital analysis can then be effectively and efficiently used in the photo-optical data systems of the user without the need for such photographic reprocessing as contrast enhancements, film-density balancing, and extensive black-and-white and color film development and printing. The value and effectiveness of equipment such as a color-additive viewer is actually increased, since digitally enhanced and corrected imagery will be used instead of raw data.

The repetitive coverage of any area by operational Earth observation satellites makes it possible to monitor dynamic features of flooding that can cause changes, e.g, changes in the channel of the river itself or floodplain boundaries. Further, the spatial distribution of the features that have changed can be readily mapped by techniques of temporal analysis developed since the launch of Landsat 1 in 1972 (Deutsch, 1976; Deutsch, 1974; and Kruus et al., 1981). Slides of full scenes and subscenes can be projected at any scale for analysis. The slides can be projected onto a base map, thematic maps, and enlarged satellite single-band prints to produce thematic image maps.

Figure 8-11 - LANDSAT MSS DATA SETS FOR FLOOD HAZARD ASSESSMENT OF THE COASTAL PLAIN OF HONDURAS (Landsat-1 MSS band 7 (path 18/row 49) December 19, 1973)

Figure 8-11 - LANDSAT MSS DATA SETS FOR FLOOD HAZARD ASSESSMENT OF THE COASTAL PLAIN OF HONDURAS (Landsat-2 MSS band 7 (path 19/row 49) December 3, 1978)


- Automatic spatial measurements.

- Thematic enhancements, such as linear contrast stretches, band rating, geometric and atmospheric corrections, edge enhancements, etc.

- Maximum scene processing versatility.

- Potential utilization in geographic information systems.

This section has outlined techniques available for the use of remote sensing data and aerial photography to assist in delineating floodplains and flood prone areas. The practical application of using Landsat MSS data to delineate flood-prone areas is described in the next section.


1. Case Study 1: Honduras Coastal Plain
2. Case Study 2: Pilcomayo River Floodplain

In 1985, the OAS/DRDE completed two projects employing Landsat MSS data for delineation of flood-prone areas. One study was undertaken for the coastal plain on Honduras. The second study covered the Pilcomayo River valley in Paraguay. Both utilized inexpensive, practical, yet different photo-optical processing techniques that were designed for the specific situation. The methods used are best illustrated by the following case studies.

1. Case Study 1: Honduras Coastal Plain

a. Photo-Optical Technique Employed for Spectral Analysis
b. Temporal Analysis of Land Surface Changes

In September 1974 the coastal plain of Honduras was devastated by flooding from Hurricane Fifi. Subsequently, the Government of Honduras requested assistance from the OAS/DRDE to delineate the flood-prone areas of the coastal plain on 1:50,000 scale maps, employing remote sensing technology as appropriate, to be used in an integrated development planning study to formulate investment projects for restructuring the region's economy.

a. Photo-Optical Technique Employed for Spectral Analysis

A data search was made, and two relatively cloud-free Landsat MSS data sets were available covering the study area. Pre-flood and post-flood imagery was obtained. A 53-kilometer-wide overlap between the two scenes provided the basis for an analysis of temporal changes that could be attributed to the hurricane and to changing land patterns between the two dates (see Figure 8-11).

Positive black-and-white film transparencies at a scale of 1:1,000,000 of all four bands of the data were purchased for the satellite imagery base. Standard false-color composite images in the form of positive color film transparencies were produced in a custom photographic laboratory by consecutive projection of band 4 through a blue filter, band 5 through a green filter, and band 7 through a red filter. Color prints were then produced from the transparencies. See Figure 8-9 for a description of flood-related features on Landsat MSS imagery.

In addition, slides were prepared from the imagery by photographing the film transparencies mounted on a light table with a 35mm camera using Kodak EPY 50 film for tungsten light. Do not use fluorescent lamps in the light table. Each entire scene was copied onto a single slide, and close-up slides were also prepared of selected subscenes of particular interest. Several originals of each scene were photographed in the slide format not only to save time but also to avoid the alteration of color and loss of detail that commonly occur when duplicate slides are made.

The topographic base maps were mounted on a wall, and the images were projected onto, and registered with, the maps. Although the maps were at a scale of 1:50,000 and the original satellite imagery was at a scale of 1:1,000,000, the identification of the coastal lowlands, which in general constitute the flood-hazard area, could be made by pattern recognition.



Interpretation guide to temporal composite composed of Landsat images taken in 1973 and 1978:
Yellow: no significant change between the two dates.
Red: pre-existing conditions in 1973.
Green; new conditions in 1978.

The maps had a topographic contour interval of 20 meters, which was too large to use for floodplain delineation. On the other hand, the MSS imagery, with its nominal spatial resolution of 80 meters, is normally used for mapping at scales of 1:250,000 or smaller. There is a synergistic effect when the topographic map is combined with any remote sensor imagery. Conjunctive use of the maps and the MSS imagery made it possible to delineate the floodplain boundaries with a high degree of confidence, and to approximate the limits of a 100-year design event.

It must be emphasized, however, that although the floodplain delineation was made through the interpretation of static data, it was made by an experienced hydrologist thoroughly familiar with satellite data characteristics. The specially processed imagery is a tool for the mapping process and does not replace the applications scientist, nor does it automatically produce maps.

b. Temporal Analysis of Land Surface Changes

One of the most useful applications of repetitive satellite imagery is the ability to prepare temporal composites that show changes in land-surface features that have occurred during the time between the dates of collection. To see what changes occurred in Atlántida Province, Honduras, between December 1973 and December 1978, which includes the Hurricane Fifi event, duplicate 1:1,000,000 scale film-positive transparencies of the Landsat images, band 5, were made.

The same land area from both scenes was then carefully cut out of the transparencies and mounted in a color-additive viewer. This device permits simultaneous viewing of both images on a ground-glass screen and can be photographed. The images must be precisely focused and the scale carefully adjusted. The images were then accurately registered and red and green color filters were introduced to color-code specific surface features, such as surface water, sediment deposits, and vegetation (see Figure 8-12).

By combining red and green, yellow is produced. Hence, for areas where there is no significant change in surface reflection, the area is color-coded in yellow to brown tones, depending upon the film density. If a change in spectral reflectance occurs due to flooding, the area affected by the change is color-coded as either red, showing the pre-existing condition, or green, showing the new condition. These changes could be an alteration of vegetation or land-use distribution, or changes in forestry, construction, or pollution, for example. This information could then be used to define areas susceptible to flood events.

As an aid to interpretation, the location and distribution of clouds can be noted. Where there were clouds on one date, but not on another, the area is coded red or green depending upon the date and filter combination. The very small areas that were cloud-covered on both dates appeared yellow.

2. Case Study 2: Pilcomayo River Floodplain

a. Photo-Optical Techniques Employed for Spectral Analysis
b. Temporal Analysis of Changes in the Floodplain and River Channel

Due to the recurring flooding along the Pilcomayo River in southwestern Paraguay, the Government of Paraguay requested assistance from OAS/DRDE to delineate the floodplain boundaries and hazards along the river. In this case the desired map scale was 1:500,000, but topographic maps at this scale were not available. The information was combined with desertification hazard and other natural resource information using a soils classification map as the base map.

a. Photo-Optical Techniques Employed for Spectral Analysis

Landsat MSS data were used as the mapping and interpretation base for delineations of the floodplain and the various hazard areas. A detailed geographic search of available data revealed that Landsat 2 MSS data collected on consecutive days in 1976 were the best available for coverage of the study area. Positive black-and-white transparencies in the 70mm format at a scale of 1:3,369,000 were purchased. For temporal analysis, a transparency of Landsat 1 MSS data from 1972 was provided. In addition, a set of Landsat 4 data from 1982 covering the southwestern portion of the study area was also purchased.

Before the actual preparation of the floodplain delineation and hazard assessment map, a spectral analysis was made of the four Landsat 2 scenes collected employing photo-optical data processing techniques. The 70mm positive transparencies or "chips" were mounted' in a color-additive viewer. This viewer enabled the specialist to examine each of the single-band black-and-white images individually or in any 2, 3, or 4 band combination of transparencies. Each band was projected through a blue, green, or red filter, or by unfiltered white light, under controlled illumination intensities for each. A wide variety of band, filter, and illumination intensities is possible, but for this study, preselected band-filter combinations or spectral composites were generated.





A. LANDSAT-1 MSS band-5 negative.
Subscene (path 245/row 76) covering a portion of the
Pilcomayo River basin.
Collected September 1, 1972.

B. LANDSAT-2 MSS band-5 negative.
Subscene (path 245/row 76) covering the same portion of the Pilcomayo River basin as in "A" above. Collected March 29, 1976.

C. Temporal composite of subscenes A and B.
The arrows show the areas of sediment deposition in the interval between 1972 and 1976.

The transparencies were projected onto a ground-glass screen at a scale of approximately 1:800,000, and the individual chips were registered to form a multispectral composite. A set of three scenes and subscenes were photographed from the ground-glass screen on 35mm slides to provide a permanent record of the spectrally enhanced data products as well as an opportunity for discussion and interactive analysis. Kodak EPY 135 film for tungsten light, ASA 50, was used.

To prepare the 1:500,000 scale floodplain and flood hazard map of the Pilcomayo River valley in the Paraguayan case, high-contrast negative transparencies at a scale of 1:1,000,000 were prepared from the band 5 (band 2 for Landsat 4 and 5, 1:3,369,000 scale) positive transparencies in a custom photographic laboratory. From these, 1:500,000 scale positive black-and-white prints were made, and a four scene mosaic was assembled that included the entire study area. Selected slides depicting enhancements listed in Figure 8-9 and a composite map (created from a base map, soil classifications map, and forest cover map) were projected and registered to aid in the interpretation. The floodplain boundaries and hazard-level zones were then drafted on a mylar overlay of the image mosaic and composite map. The outer boundary of the floodplain was rapidly and confidently plotted on the band 5 mosaic after the imagery was studied on projections of 35mm slides showing the spectrally enhanced 3-band color composites previously prepared for the same scene.

b. Temporal Analysis of Changes in the Floodplain and River Channel

Two temporal or time-change composites along selected reaches of the Pilcomayo River were made to serve as indicators of change in the floodplain and river channel. To observe changes in the floodplain between 1972 and 1976, a high-contrast negative at a scale of 1:1,000,000 was prepared from the low contrast band 5 positive image of the same scale. A high-contrast band 5 negative at a scale of 1:1,000,000 was also prepared from the 70mm positive transparency. The color-additive viewer is designed to hold 70mm format film, so 70mm wide strips of the selected subscene were cut from the larger film and mounted in the viewer.

Figure 8-13A is a monochrome copy of a high-contrast negative of a Landsat 1 MSS band 5 black-and-white negative covering the subscene from 1972. Figure 8-13B is a Landsat 2 MSS band 5 negative of that same portion of the valley from 1976. Figure 8-13C is a temporal composite of the scenes in Figure 8-13A projected through a green filter and Figure 8-13B projected through a red filter. Areas of new sediment deposition between 1972 and 1976 appear as red on the temporal composite. Examples of these areas are identified in Figure 8-13C.

In most cases, the changing course of a river can be illustrated by use of one of the MSS solar infrared bands. Figure 8-14A is a print of the black-and-white transparency of a portion of a Landsat 2 MSS band 7 image collected in 1976, which was later projected through a green filter. Figure 8-14B covering the same area is an MSS band 7 image collected by Landsat 4 in 1982, which was later projected through a red filter. Figure 8-14C, which covers the northwestern segment of the temporal composite of the scenes in Figures 8-14A and 8-14B, vividly demonstrates the extensive changes in the river's course between 1976 and 1982. The river's course in 1976 is shown in red, and the course in 1982 is shown in green.

Although the temporal analyses do not cover the whole reach of the Pilcomayo River valley bordering the study area, they clearly demonstrate the highly dynamic nature of the floodplain and areas of sediment deposit. This indicates that there is a need for continuous monitoring of the floodplain as well as monitoring during the period of flooding for assessing the flood hazard and delineation of the flood-prone areas. The floodplain delineation and temporal analysis information was used to further assess flood hazards as part of overall project identification criteria.


Floodplains and flood-prone areas are dynamic land areas that need to be assessed in terms of the risks they pose to existing and proposed development activities. This chapter has discussed at length some of the key concepts related to floods, floodplains, and flood-prone areas: their changing nature, frequency of occurrence, length of inundation, relationship to development practices, and ways to mitigate the effects of floods. The essential point has been to demonstrate the importance of considering floods early in the planning process, and the application of remote sensing imagery in the delineation of flood-prone areas.

The different questions that need to be asked at the different planning stages were highlighted. Many answers can be generated from the use of remote sensing and photo-optical techniques to supplement other kinds of hydrologic data. Finally, Landsat MSS data in two different photo-optical data processing techniques to delineate flood-prone areas in the Honduras coastal plain and the Pilcomayo River floodplain provide evidence of the value and importance of satellite information. The material in this chapter should enable the planner to have a working vocabulary of terms, concepts, and knowledge of the important considerations related to the use of remote sensing techniques for floodplain delineation and in flood hazard assessments.





A. LANDSAT-2 MSS band-7 sub-scene showing a reach of the Pilcomayo River. Collected March 30, 1976.

B. LANDSAT-4 MSS band-7 subscene showing the same reach of the Pilcomayo River as in "A" above. Collected October 12, 1982.

C. Diagram showing the change in the course of the Pilcomayo River from 1976 to 1982.


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