The new Global Water Watch Platform will make details about global surface water available to everyone for free on the web. This new tool will help to achieve a balanced and more sustainable use of fresh water and to have a better overview in the event of calamities. ‘The Water Management Needs Study commissioned by the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) was an important stimulus for this development.’
Global Water Watch Platform
Work will start in September on Global Water Watch, a new information platform for anyone who wants to know exactly how much surface water there is where. Worldwide this concerns about a million ‘water bodies’, in particular reservoirs, lakes and rivers. Dutch Deltares is the leader of this two-year project, and will work on this together with the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund. They recently received a 1 million euro subsidy from the Google.org Impact Challenge On Climate, after a selection from 100 applicants. Google also has a philanthropic branch, which stimulates innovative projects by not-for-profit organizations with an annual budget of 200 million dollars. The application will be freely available.
Sentinel-2 satellite images show the outcome of the flooding caused by heavy rainfall that hit Western Australia in late 2020. The satellite image on the left is from November 11, 2020, while the satellite image on the right was taken on December 16, 2020. | Image: ESA
The main input of the platform consists of images from satellite constellations from NASA and ESA. The data is immediately processed with the use of artificial intelligence. “The app will provide precise digital maps and near real-time information about the available sources and water quantities and monitor the changes therein,” says Chris Bremmer of Deltares, a renowned knowledge institute in the field of water and subsurface. Many ‘wet’ areas on Earth are poorly mapped. The exact location of dams, weirs and other details is often not visible. “With satellite data, land and water (height) are efficiently mapped and thus also the discharges of rivers. The point is that decision makers can find answers to questions such as: how much water does this lake contain? Is there enough water in that region for humans, animals and crops this year? How does the upstream land manage the water in the river and what effect does that have on the quantity downstream?”
Independent Source of Water Data
“We first start by mapping out the actual situation,” explains Deltares project leader Gennadii Donchyts. “We will then use analytical tools on the satellite images. To what extent is the water used for energy, drinking water, agriculture, etc.? Who are big users? Where can we assume waste? Where will the drought or high water be disproportionate?” The findings will also be linked to the Water, Peace and Security Partnership (of which Deltares is a partner), which focuses on conflict areas. “Water must be included as standard in the analysis of conflict situations. Is the data exchanged between countries correct? We want to be an independent, authoritative source for that.”
July 2021: Satellites map last month’s floods in the Netherlands. The extent of the flood is shown in red.| Image: ESA
There will also be monitoring in case of calamities and these will occur more often due to climate change. According to Chris Bremmer, the recent floods in the Netherlands and the surrounding countries do not so much show that other types of data are needed – although new instruments and satellites will of course always add details – but above all that the use of existing data must be improved. “The models must be more accurate and the data must be better integrated. With Global Water Watch we get excellent input for the machine learning artificial intelligence. But an event as in July was a big surprise and it probably still would have been with better instruments. There were sudden, very high amounts of rainfall in a short time, without much movement of the rain zone. Meteorology is generally difficult to predict. We will, however, make progress in predicting problem sites due to persistent precipitation or drought, so that competent authorities can take measures earlier to mitigate the effects of the extremes.”
The idea behind the Global Water Watch arose after Deltares launched the Aquamonitor in 2016, developed to map surface water changes worldwide. The Water Management Needs Study commissioned by the NSO in 2019 was also a stimulus. Chris Bremmer sees the link with the NSO: “We are thinking in particular of their satellite data portal. This is not only of great use for Dutch applications, but also because it allows us to easily experiment with very high-resolution data files. We can use it to test hypotheses: what does it add if we use different data qualities? This could lead to new data services worldwide. These will not be commercial services, by the way,” emphasizes Gennadii Donchyts. “We are concerned with the impact we want to have with our data. Satellite data will help reduce the impact of water problems on society in the near future.”
Global Water Watch | Image: Deltares
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