Probabilistic Mapping of August 2018 Flood of Kerala, India, Using Space-Borne Synthetic Aperture Radar

Sonam Futi Sherpa, Manoochehr Shirzaei, Chandrakanta Ojha, Susanna Werth, Renaud Hostache

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging provides an all-weather sensing technique that is suitable for near-real-time mapping of disasters such as floods. In this article, we use SAR data acquired by Sentinel-1A/B satellites to investigate a flood event that affected the Indian state of Kerala in August 2018. We apply a Bayesian approach to generate probabilistic flood maps, which contain for each pixel its probability to be flooded rather than binary flood information. We find that the extent of the flooded area begins to increase throughout Kerala after August 8, with the highest values on August 9 and August 21. We observe no apparent correlation between the spatial distributions of the flooded areas and the rainfall amounts at the district level of the study area. Instead, larger flooded areas are in the districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam, located in the downstream floodplain of the Idduki dam, which released a significant volume of water on August 16. The lack of apparent correlation is likely due to two reasons: first, there is often some delay between the rainfall event and the flooding, especially for rather large catchments where flood waves need some time to reach floodplains from higher elevations. Second, rainfall is more abundant at overhead catchments (hills and mountains), whereas flood occurs further downstream in the floodplains. Further comparison of our SAR-based flood maps with optical data and flood maps produced by moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer highlights the advantages of our data and approach for rapid response purposes and future flood forecasting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9000852
Pages (from-to)896-913
Number of pages18
JournalIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
StatePublished - 2020


  • Kerala 2018 flood
  • probabilistic flood map
  • synthetic aperture radar (SAR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Atmospheric Science


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