A Simple Global River Bankfull Width & Depth Database

Hydraulic and hydrologic modeling has been moving to larger spatial scales with increased spatial resolution, and such models require a global database of river widths and depths to facilitate accurate river flow routing. Hydraulic geometry relationships have a long history in estimating river channel characteristics as a function of discharge. A simple global database of bankfull widths and depths (along with confidence intervals) was developed based on hydraulic geometry equations and the HydroSHEDS hydrography dataset. The bankfull width estimates were evaluated with widths derived from Landsat imagery for reaches of nine major rivers, showing errors ranging from 8 to 62% (correlation of 0.87), although it was difficult to verify whether the satellite observations corresponded to bankfull conditions. Bankfull depth estimates were compared with in-situ measurements at fifty sites on the Ohio River, producing a mean error of 34%. The uncertainties in the derivation approach, and a number of caveats as well as ways to improve the database are identified. Despite these limitations, this global database can be used directly in hydraulic models or as a set of constraints in model calibration.

The database is described in a Water Resources Research paper (currently in review):

K. Andreadis, G. Schumann, and T. Pavelsky, A simple global river bankfull width and depth database, Water Resour.Res., in review.

ESRI Shapefiles are provides as ZIP files per continent (corresponding to the HydroSHEDS files) in the links below:


North America

South America




Central America