Remote sensing of riparian buffers: Past progress and future prospects

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Riparian buffer zone management is an area of increasing relevance as human modification of the landscape continues unabated. Land and water resource managers are continually challenged to maintain stream ecosystem integrity and water quality in the context of rapidly changing land use, which often offsets management gains. Approaches are needed not only to map vegetation cover in riparian zones, but also to monitor the changes taking place, target restoration activities, and assess the success of previous management actions. To date, these objectives have been difficult to meet using traditional techniques based on aerial photos and field visits, particularly over large areas. Recent advances in remote sensing have the potential to substantially aid buffer zone management. Very high resolution imagery is now available that allows detailed mapping and monitoring of buffer zone vegetation and provides a basis for consistent assessments using moderately high resolution remote sensing (e.g., Landsat). Laser-based remote sensing is another advance that permits even more detailed information on buffer zone properties, such as refined topographic derivatives and multidimensional vegetation structure. These sources of image data and map information are reviewed in this paper, examples of their application to riparian buffer mapping and stream health assessment are provided, and future prospects for improved buffer monitoring are discussed. JAWRA

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-143
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Remote sensing
  • Riparian buffers
  • Stream health
  • Watershed management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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