Spotting Scarcity from Space

A new project uses satellites to monitor reservoir levels.

Laura_Sanchez_Blog

While Cape Town, South Africa made headlines last month because of its “Day Zero” plan to ration water for citizens following years of drought, a number of other regions around the globe are silently facing similar scenarios. A new project indicates that reservoirs are shrinking at an alarming rate in Morocco, India, Iraq, and Spain.

“There are lots of potential Cape Towns in the making,” Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute (WRI) told The Guardian last week. “These four could be a harbinger of things to come.”

WRI, a US-based environmental organization recently released a preview of its efforts to build a water scarcity early warning system based on satellite imagery.

Acknowledging the fact that oftentimes policymakers and business leaders aren’t able to access the data needed to make informed decisions about the environment and human well-being, the organization felt that it was important to develop a platform that leverages technology, data, and human networks to make this information accessible: a project they call Resource Watch.

“Resource Watch features hundreds of data sets all in one place on the state of the planet’s resources and citizens. Users can visualize challenges facing people and the planet, from climate change to poverty, water risk to state instability, air pollution to human migration, and more,” the organization’s website explains. WRI foresees the informational network expanding with additional data contributed by NASA and the European Space Agency satellites.

The complete project will be unveiled later this year, but preliminary findings, released last week, highlight four of the most-affected reservoirs and the potential impact on human life.

Morocco’s Al Massira reservoir shows the most dramatic decrease. Due to persistent drought and the increasing demand of expanding agricultural and urban areas, the reservoir has shrunk by 60% in three years and is currently at the lowest level recorded in a decade.

The Mosul Dam in Iraq is also now down 60% from its peak in the 1990s, though its volume decrease has taken place more gradually. Low rainfall and competition from hydropower projects upstream on the Tigris and Euphrates have contributed to the reservoir’s perilously low levels.

In India, the Indira Sagar dam is a third below its seasonal average, a shortfall likely to affect the drinking water supply for 30 million people.

The surface area of the Buendia dam in Spain has shrunk 60% in the last five years as a result of a severe drought, a state of scarcity that has vast social implications as the effect on hydropower generation has already elevated electricity prices.

WRI and its research partners hope that the reservoir-monitoring service will help some of the areas most affected by scarcity around the globe foresee perilous water levels and avoid day-zero circumstances.

Do you think that this data platform and bird’s eye view might help coordinate the management of water resources? WE_bug_web

Comments
  • Claude J Phene, Ph.D.

    What about California and the Western US??? At UC KARE Center, Parlier, CA we were in a significant drought from 2011 to 2015 (an average of 27.6% below normal) and following a wet year in 2016, we are now about 30% below normal in Fresno, CA and the precipitation period is almost over…

    Reply
  • Allen (Al).

    We (environmentally arrogant, ignorant,” greed for the sake greed”, human creatures without limitations) are the definitive cause. Our population is now 7.5 billion and we are seriously considering accommodating 9 billion?? We passed the limits of sustainability at 3.5 billion! There are no 9 permanent, sustainable methods of managing, conserving, re-using Earth’s resources if we don’t control, reduce the human population. If we “magically” found a way to solve all of today’s problems, the human creature would continue propagating itself and the rest of life into oblivion. “An exercise in total futility”!

    Reply

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