Mapping Flow-Obstructing Structures on Global Rivers

Xiao Yang (Lead / Corresponding author), Tamlin M. Pavelsky, Matthew R.V. Ross, Stephanie R. Januchowski-Hartley, Wayana Dolan, Elizabeth H. Altenau, Michael Belanger, Danesha Byron, Michael Durand, Ian Van Dusen, Hailey Galit, Michiel Jorissen, Theodore Langhorst, Eric Lawton, Riley Lynch, Katie Ann Mcquillan, Sayali Pawar, Aaron Whittemore

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    To help store water, facilitate navigation, generate energy, mitigate floods, and support industrial and agricultural production, people have built and continue to build obstructions to natural flow in rivers. However, due to the long and complex history of constructing and removing such obstructions, we lack a globally consistent record of their locations and types. Here, we used a consistent method to visually locate and classify obstructions on 2.1 million km of large rivers (width ≥30 m) globally. We based our mapping on Google Earth Engine’s high resolution images, which for many places have meter-scale resolution. The resulting Global River Obstruction Database (GROD) consists of 30,549 unique obstructions, covering six different obstruction types: dam, lock, low head dam, channel dam, and two types of partial dams. By classifying a subset of the obstructions multiple times, we are able to show high classification consistency (87% mean balanced accuracy) for the three types of obstructions that fully intersect rivers: dams, low head dams, and locks. The classification of the three types of partial obstructions are somewhat less consistent (61% mean balanced accuracy). Overall, by comparing GROD to similar datasets, we estimate GROD likely captured >90% of the obstructions on large rivers. We anticipate that GROD will be of wide interest to the hydrological modeling, aquatic ecology, geomorphology, and water resource management communities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere2021WR030386
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalWater Resources Research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2022


    • connectivity
    • fragmentation
    • infrastructure
    • obstructions
    • participatory research
    • rivers

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Water Science and Technology


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