Unraveling uncertainties of water table slope assessment with DGPS in lowland floodplain wetlands

Environ Monit Assess. 2016 Nov;188(11):625. doi: 10.1007/s10661-016-5642-3. Epub 2016 Oct 18.


In our study, we analyzed the combined standard uncertainty of water table slope assessment done using differential global positioning system (DGPS)-based measurements of water table elevation and distances between measurement locations. We compared and discussed uncertainties in water table slope assessments done in various hypothetical environments of lowland floodplains (water table slopes typically ranged from 1.25 · 10-4 to 1 · 10-3). Our analyses referred to elevation measurements done with the static GPS and DGPS real-time kinematic (RTK) approaches, which are currently among the most frequently used elevation measurement techniques worldwide. Calculations of the combined standard uncertainty of water table slope allowed us to conclude that the DGPS-RTK approach used in water table slope assessment can result in assessment errors as high as 50 % at short (<200 m) distances. Acceptable water table slope measurement errors (lower than 5 %) occur at distances longer than 11,320 m in the case of DGPS-RTK measurements, while, in the case of static GPS measurements, acceptable measurement errors at the same level occur at distances as low as 1350 m. Errors in water table slope assessment as high as 50 % occur at distances of 1130 m and 140 m for DGPS-RTK and static GPS measurements, respectively. We conclude that, although the DGPS-RTK methodology-due to its ease of use and time-saving capabilities is very often applied to water level measurements in lowland riparian wetlands, the application of the DGPS-RTK methodology for water table slope assessment at distances shorter than a few couples of meters results in very low accuracy (errors greater than 50 %) and should not be used for calculating local slopes in low slope areas such as lowland riparian zones.

Keywords: DGPS; Elevation; Floodplain; Measurements; Slope; Uncertainty; Water level; Wetlands.

MeSH terms

  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Groundwater*
  • Uncertainty
  • Wetlands*