A novel approach to leveraging social media for rapid flood mapping: a case study of the 2015 South Carolina floods

Zhenlong Li, Cuizhen Wang, Christopher T. Emrich, Diansheng Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


Rapid flood mapping is critical for local authorities and emergency responders to identify areas in need of immediate attention. However, traditional data collection practices such as remote sensing and field surveying often fail to offer timely information during or right after a flooding event. Social media such as Twitter have emerged as a new data source for disaster management and flood mapping. Using the 2015 South Carolina floods as the study case, this paper introduces a novel approach to mapping the flood in near real time by leveraging Twitter data in geospatial processes. Specifically, in this study, we first analyzed the spatiotemporal patterns of flood-related tweets using quantitative methods to better understand how Twitter activity is related to flood phenomena. Then, a kernel-based flood mapping model was developed to map the flooding possibility for the study area based on the water height points derived from tweets and stream gauges. The identified patterns of Twitter activity were used to assign the weights of flood model parameters. The feasibility and accuracy of the model was evaluated by comparing the model output with official inundation maps. Results show that the proposed approach could provide a consistent and comparable estimation of the flood situation in near real time, which is essential for improving the situational awareness during a flooding event to support decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-110
Number of pages14
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

Cite this