Global Surface Water

The frequency with which water was present on the surface from March 1984 to December 2020 was captured in a single product called surface water occurrence (SWO). To compute SWO, the water detections (WD) and valid observations (VO) from the same months are summed, that is, water detections and valid observations from March 1984 are added to water detections and valid observations from March 1985 and so on, such that SWOmonth = ∑WD month / ∑VO month. Averaging the results of all monthly SWOmonth calculations gives the long-term overall surface water occurrence. The month-by-month time step normalizes occurrence against seasonal variation in the number of valid observations across the year. Typically, more cloud-free observations (and thus valid observations) are available during dry seasons than wet. Without monthly weighting, the overall water occurrence (that is, computed over the full period) would be biased by temporal distribution of the valid observations (that is, giving more weight to the dry season than to the wet season).

Variable NameUnitDescription

Water occurrence


The occurrence value expressed as a percentage

Data are produced by: Jean-Francois Pekel, Andrew Cottam, Noel Gorelick, Alan S. Belward, High-resolution mapping of global surface water and its long-term changes. Nature 540, 418-422 (2016). (doi:10.1038/nature20584)

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