Source depth estimation with a vertical line array generally involves mode filtering, then matched-mode processing. Because mode filtering is an ill-posed problem if the water column is not well-sampled, concerns for robustness motivate a simpler approach: source depth discrimination considered as a binary classification problem. It aims to evaluate whether the source is near the surface or submerged. These two hypotheses are formulated in terms of normal modes, using the concept of trapped and free modes. Decision metrics based on classic mode filters are proposed. Monte Carlo methods are used to predict performance and set the parameters of a classifier accordingly.