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Watching water from space

Water is rapidly becoming an increasingly critical resource. Climate change, increasing populations and growing urbanisation and deforestation are all putting pressure on the globe’s water resources.

 

Nations and intragovernmental organisations are constantly looking for ways to protect critical bodies of water, not least inland water bodies. And to do so, you need to continuously monitor their dynamics. But how can you most effectively track the dynamics of Earth’s surface water?  

 

The challenge of monitoring large bodies of water 

 

Inland water bodies include lakes, rivers and reservoirs and they provide water for domestic usage and agriculture and may also be sources for hydropower and recreation. But in most countries, governments only measure water resources with level measurements in major reservoirs and along a few river flow stations. These only represent a small portion of the overall water resources and there is consequently a large knowledge gap.

 

What if you could simply watch water from space? 

 

WorldWater is a pioneering project applying comprehensive satellite image analyses and tools to offer more accurate and detailed monitoring of surface water dynamics than has been previously possible. WorldWater is sponsored by ESA, the European Space Agency, and partners in the project are DHI, Gisat, Geoville, Danish Technical University and GRID-Arendal.  

  

What have been the outcomes of the WorldWater project so far? 

 

Recent outcomes of the WorldWater project include full national monitoring information of the inland water bodies in nine pilot countries/regions: Colombia, Mexico, Gabon, Zambia, Greenland, Thailand, Tajikistan, Denmark and the Volta basin in West Africa. Other key outputs include an online porcessing system and a cloud-based open-source toolbox as well as an open-for-all global dissemination portal. The portal contains information on surface water dynamics and statistics that are derived using advanced algorithms and processing of the entire archive of freely available satellite data from Sentinel-1, -2 and -3 of the European Copernicus mission. 

 

The ultimate aim of the project is to enable decision-makers and river basin authorities to gain more accurate and detailed information about the development of vulnerable water bodies so that they can implement effective measures for water body management and protection. Armed with the services developed in the WorldWater project, stakeholders can report and monitor water dynamics over time in alignment with the global water agendas, especially the Sustainable Development Goal on ‘clean water for all’ (SDG 6) and the ‘climate action goal’ (SDG 13). 

 

What’s next? 

 

At a recent partner meeting in Rome, members from the participating organisations not only reviewed the progress they had made in mapping the world’s inland water bodies. They also discussed critical next steps, including how the tools and services demonstrated in the project can be fully adopted by countries in the long term. This can be achieved by implementation in key national institutions and by integrating or expanding existing infrastructures for water and environmental monitoring.   

Further information:

 

The ESA-funded World Water project (https://worldwater.earth/) develops novel multi-source EO tools for monitoring the seasonal and annual dynamics of inland surface waters with the objective to empower countries and river basin authorities with advanced EO technology to manage their water resources and report on the global water agendas. Main objective is to develop a scientifically robust method that exploits the full time series of Sentinel 1, and Sentinel 2 to better capture the seasonal changes of surface waters in extent, and to complement these observations with Sentinel 3 radar altimetry measurements of water levels in order to derive the changes in lake volume and river discharge. A Proof of Concept was conducted in 5 partner countries (Colombia, Mexico, Gabon, Zambia and Greenland) and with additional national/regional demonstrations conducted in Thailand, Tajikistan, Volta Basin and Denmark.

 

The service provides information on the occurrence of surface water and a variety of water related indicators for a selected region and period of interest, and based on the entire archive of freely available data from the high-resolution Sentinel-1 (radar), Sentinel-2 (optical) and Sentinel-3 (radar altimeter) satellite missions. The service allows to report and monitor water dynamics over time as needed to drive actions towards meeting the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially the goal on ‘clean water for all’ (SDG 6) and the ‘climate action goal’ (SDG 13). 

How can we help?

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