DISFLOOD - Disaster Information System for Large-Scale Flood Events using Earth Observation

Background and Goals

The most recent floods in Germany have illustrated the vulnerability of towns and communities and have affected many sectors and areas of activity, including infrastructure, communication, commerce, culture, industry etc. Assessing the characteristics of a flood situation and its negative effects is a prerequisite for effective flood management. However, assessing the geographical extent of flooding is difficult, particularly for large-scale events. For this kind of large-scale events, the information on flooding and its consequences is distributed between a range of institutions in different communities or regions. There is not normally a standardised picture of the entire event. Satellite data now enables the entire geographical situation to be represented. In combination with large-scale data records, e.g. state-wide topographical and socio-economic data, it is possible to provide differentiated variables for characterising a flood risk.

The objective of the project is to use the latest methods in remote reconnaissance, modelling and the incorporation of socio-economic data to develop a flood information system for large river drainage basins in Germany. This will ensure that risks and damage can be assessed more quickly, increase public awareness and support political decision makers. The effects of large-scale flooding are assessed using earth observation. The method used is implemented with a software system in the NaDiNe networking platform.

The flood information system has the following objectives:

  •  Provision of flood areas based on satellite data;
  •  Derivation of parameters that influence damage (e.g. flooding height);
  •  Assessment of direct economic losses;
  •  Provision of vulnerability indicators.

The project involves the following activities:

1. Vulnerability and flood risk assessment: Earth observation based identification and characterisation of at-risk locations (hospitals, industrial plants, dykes etc.) and urban and rural population structures; indication of risk areas.

2. Rapid recording of flood areas: Derivation of flood areas from the latest optical and SAR satellite image data; monitoring dynamics of flood events over time.

3. Extrapolation/interpolation of flood areas for the high water level: Cutting of flood area using digital land model in GIS; derivation of hydraulic parameters (e.g. flood depth, flood duration); adaptation of water level based on current or forecast level data and derivation of relevant flood area.

4. Validation of damage assessment and disaggregation: Identification of affected locations, infrastructure and land use types; disaggregation of calculated vulnerability indicators and damage.

The work will be carried out at a macro level. The methods will be developed for the Elbe and for the states of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, but could potentially also be applied to other major rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Saxony
  • Saxony-Anhalt
Natural spatial classification
  • Erz Mountains, Thuringian Forest and Bavarian Forest
  • North-East German lowland
  • South-Eeastern basin and hills

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

No climate projections analysed

Step 2b: Identify and assess risks - Vulnerability, risks and chances

Approach and results 

Towns and communities are extremely vulnerable to flooding events. The vulnerability and flood risk assessment will be carried out by identifying and characterising at-risk locations (hospitals, industrial plants, dykes etc.) and urban and rural population structures based on earth observation data. Based on this, at-risk areas will be identified and social and ecological vulnerability indicators - in the sense of susceptibility to a damaging event - derived. Social adaptation capacity will not be analysed.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

For effective flood management, the characteristics of a flood situation and its negative effects must have been assessed, or this must be possible. This is not only important in association with climate change, but also for today's extreme flood events.

Step 4: Plan and implement measures

Costs of the measures 

Analysis of socio-economic data for a flood information system and assessment of direct economic losses as a consequence of flooding events.


Funding / Financing 

Helmholtz Association

Project management 

Helmholtz Centre Potsdam,German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ)


Helmholtz research network "Integrated Observing System" (Helmholtz-EOS); United Nations University Bonn, Institute for Environment and Human Security - UNU-EHS; German Aerospace Centre (DLR); German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD). The project was initiated with cooperation between the Helmholtz research network "Integrated Earth Observing System" (Helmholtz-EOS) and the United Nations University Bonn, Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS). The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) works with the Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information to offer its expertise in terms of remote sensing, crisis mapping and disaster monitoring, while know-how is contributed by the Engineering Hydrology Department of the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) in the field of hydrological and hydraulic process modelling. UNU-EHS provides expert knowledge about vulnerability and risk assessment from anthropogenic aspects.


GFZ - GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam
D-14473 Potsdam

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Fields of action:
 water regime and water management