The Netherlands is extremely successful at an international level when it comes to flood protection. The country has a large number of specialists available in every conceivable area: from the design and construction of dikes, forecasting systems, and decision-supporting systems, through to crisis management, measurement systems and evacuation.



Reliable and timely information is essential for appropriate flood management. As part of the Dutch research programme Flood Control 2015, an operational service is being developed to provide a systematic and fully automated global flood mapping system in near real time. This service is called the Global Flood Observatory. The procedures for making the flood maps have been developed using Remote Sensing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data from the Envisat satellite. The service is preparing for the use of the high resolution Sentinel data, from a new satellite which is expected to be launched in the coming years.

By using SAR images it is possible to observe floods both day and night and through clouds. The SAR backscatter over a flooded region is very low and it is this characteristic that can be mapped effectively when looking at flood inundation. The mapping results are currently available in a pre-operational system, using Google Earth as a viewer.


The GFO project team (Deltares, HKV and Fugro-NPA) is also closely cooperating with the Dartmouth Flood Observatory in the USA. The Dartmouth Flood Observatory (DFO) has gained experience since 1993 with the production of flood maps from optical satellite imagery and has currently established, together with NASA collaborators, a fully automated, global, near real-time service. The optical and radar approaches to flood mapping each have advantages and suffer from shortcomings. Optical remote sensing is constrained by cloud cover but can attain a high revisit frequency (>2 /day), whereas the Envisat ASAR is not affected by cloud cover, but uses a lower revisit frequency (generally once/3 days, depending on the location). An improved flood mapping results can be made by combining the two approaches. The collaboration is currently focusing on the best methods to do this. First results, for example from the flooding in Bangkok in October-November 2011, are positive.


As part of the GFO project, Deltares hosted the 2nd International Workshop on Global Flood Modelling and Monitoring, from March 19-21 2012. The workshop was jointly organized by Deltares, the Dartmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado (Bob Brakenridge) and the JRC CriTech Action group, Global Flood Detection System (Tom De Groeve).

workshop GFO

It included participants from the international weather forecasting, remote sensing, and global flood modelling communities, as well as representatives of the users of flooding information such as re-insurance companies, and disaster coordination and humanitarian relief agencies (Swiss-Re, World Food Programme, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, European Commission Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection Agency). It is an informal group whose objective is to develop tools and methods that allow us to rapidly collect and distribute accurate information on floods all around the world.
Deltares presented the Global Flood Observatory system which automatically processes remote sensing data from the Envisat ASAR satellite to provide global flooding maps in real time, as well as the Global Flood Modelling initiative, in which Deltares  participates. The workshop participants have formed a working group and will be cooperating  in the coming year to ex-change data and results to support improved validation of their flooding information products. Additionally, a number of procedures for exchanging information operationally during a yet to come flooding event has been agreed upon.

For more information contact Nicki Villars


Mission Flood Control 2015

“A really substantial improvement in operational flood protection worldwide.”