A 20-year Landsat water clarity census of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes

Leif Olmanson, Marvin E. Bauer, Patrick L. Brezonik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Scopus citations


A 20-year comprehensive water clarity database assembled from Landsat imagery, primarily Thematic Mapper and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus, for Minnesota lakes larger than 8 ha in surface area contains data on more than 10,500 lakes at five-year intervals over the period 1985-2005. The reliability of the data was evaluated by examining the precision of repeated measurements on individual lakes within short time periods using data from adjacent overlapping Landsat paths and by comparing water clarity computed from Landsat data to field-collected Secchi depth data. The agreement between satellite data and field measurements of Secchi depth within Landsat paths was strong (average R2 of 0.83 and range 0.71-0.96). Relationships between late-summer Landsat and field-measured Secchi depth for the combined statewide data similarly were strong (r2 of 0.77-0.80 for individual time periods and r2 = 0.78 for the entire database). Lake clarity has strong geographic patterns in Minnesota; lakes in the south and southwest have low clarity, and lakes in the north and northeast tend to have the highest clarity. This pattern is evident at both the individual lake and the ecoregion level. Mean water clarity in the Northern Lakes and Forest and North Central Hardwood Forest ecoregions in central and northern Minnesota remained stable from 1985 to 2005 while decreasing water clarity trends were detected in the Western Corn Belt Plains and Northern Glaciated Plains ecoregions in southern Minnesota, where agriculture is the predominant land use. Mean water clarity at the statewide level also remained stable with an average around 2.25 m from 1985 to 2005. This assessment demonstrates that satellite imagery can provide an accurate method for obtaining comprehensive spatial and temporal coverage of key water quality characteristics that can be used to detect trends at different geographic scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4086-4097
Number of pages12
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 15 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for data acquisition, processing and analysis was provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund), NASA Earth Science Applications Program and the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. We acknowledge the insightful work of Joseph Shapiro, whose efforts started the CLMP program in 1973, and the efforts of hundreds of citizen volunteers who collected the Secchi transparency data that made calibration of satellite imagery for lake clarity assessments in Minnesota possible.


  • Ecoregion
  • Landsat
  • Minnesota
  • Regional
  • Remote sensing
  • Secchi depth transparency
  • Trophic-state index
  • Water clarity
  • Water clarity trends
  • Water quality


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