A semi-empirical scheme for bathymetric mapping in shallow water by ICESat-2 and Sentinel-2: A case study in the South China Sea

Hsiao Jou Hsu, Chih Yuan Huang, Michael Jasinski, Yao Li, Huilin Gao, Tsutomu Yamanokuchi, Cheng Gi Wang, Tse Ming Chang, Hsuan Ren, Chung Yen Kuo, Kuo Hsin Tseng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


To derive shallow water bathymetry for coastal areas, a common approach is to deploy a scanning airborne bathymetric light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system or a shipborne echosounder for ground surveys. However, recent advancements in satellite remote sensing, including the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) offer new tools for generating satellite derived bathymetry (SDB). The key payload onboard ICESat-2 is the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), a micro-pulse, photon-counting LiDAR system, simultaneously emitting six separate 532 nm beams at 10 kHz pulse rate. However, despite its high resolution, the major limitation for bathymetry is that ICESat-2 only provides along-track height profiles, leaving observation gaps between the parallel ground tracks. Merging ICESat-2 observations with optical multispectral imagery, as demonstrated herein, provides an effective solution for deriving a full scene of water depth in light of the spectral attenuation behavior. This study aims to combine ICESat-2 and Sentinel-2 optical data to derive shallow water bathymetry (depth <20 m) at six islands and reefs in the South China Sea. ICESat-2 ATL03 point clouds of georeferenced photons are first filtered to determine the seafloor elevation along the ground track. Results indicate a root-mean-square error (RMSE) of 0.26–0.61 m as compared with independent observations from an airborne LiDAR campaign. Next, three semi-empirical functions, namely the Modified Linear/Polynomial/Exponential Ratio Models with its kernel formed by the log ratio between Sentinel-2′s green and blue bands, are used to fit the spectral data with ICESat-2 height profiles. After water depth mapping using the trained model, independent ICESat-2 point clouds are used to validate the Sentinel-2 derived bathymetry. The RMSE values of the three models using the weighted average of multiple images for these six islands are within 0.50–0.90 m in 0–15 m deep. We also demonstrate that a synthesis of satellite laser altimetry and optical remote sensing can produce SDB results that potentially meet the requirement of category C in Zones of Confidence (ZOC) of the Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC) in 0–8 m deep. It is foreseen that ICESat-2 will be a helpful tool for mapping coastal and shallow waters around the world especially where bathymetric data are unavailable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Coastal Bathymetry
  • Electronic Navigation Chart
  • LiDAR
  • Zones of Confidence


Dive into the research topics of 'A semi-empirical scheme for bathymetric mapping in shallow water by ICESat-2 and Sentinel-2: A case study in the South China Sea'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this