The flood of 2011 in the lower Chao Phraya valley, Thailand: study of a long-duration flood through satellite images



Publication Details

Liew, S., Gupta, A., Chia, A. & Ang, W. (2016). The flood of 2011 in the lower Chao Phraya valley, Thailand: study of a long-duration flood through satellite images. Geomorphology, 262 112-122.


The paper illustrates application of satellite images for studying the anatomy of a long-duration, extensive, and slow flood on the Chao Phraya River in 2011 that inundated Bangkok in its lower reach. The spread of floods in the valley was mapped with MODIS, month by month, from July 2011 to February 2012. A subsampled WorldView-2 mosaic was used to observe part of the valley in detail. The flood in Bangkok was studied with four higher-resolution images from Spot 4, WorldView-2, and GeoEye-1 satellites. We suspect that the floodwaters jumped the banks of the Chao Phraya south of Chai Nat, and then travelled overland and along river channels. The overland passage made it difficult to protect settlements. We also studied sedimentation from the images of this shallow overland flow across the country, which was complicated by the presence of preexisting embankments, other anthropogenic structures, and smaller stream channels. This is a descriptive study but it highlights the nature of flooding that is likely to be repeated in this low flat valley from high rainfall. The pattern of flooding was similar to that of a previous large flood in 1996 recorded in a SPOT 2 image. These floods impact Bangkok periodically, a city of about 10 million people, which started on a levee in a low flat delta, then expanded into backswamps, and is marked with local depressions from groundwater extraction. These slow extensive floods can be mapped from satellite images and properly recorded as an early step in analysis of large floods. Mapping of such floods on ground is logistically impossible. Slow, extensive, and long-lasting floods affect lower valleys and deltas of a number of major rivers, impacting agricultural fields and large populations. These floods are especially disastrous for cities located on low deltas. We submit that basic exercises on satellite images provide valuable introductory information for understanding geomorphology of such floods, and also for structuring plans for flood amelioration. Satellite images at very high resolutions, also used in this study, provide complimentary data to mapping and ground observation. Basin environments that are inundated by large shallow extensive floods are not unusual. In future, climate change is expected to raise the frequency of floods in lower parts of a number of river valleys and deltas, so that for such an environment slow extensive floods may become common and need to be studied. In that sense this is a template for studying large slow floods, arguably more frequent in future.

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