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Satellite Data to address water scarcity

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Water is a gift of nature, necessary for the existence and survival of any form of life. Currently though, we witness a disturbance of weather patterns, imposed by climate change, which leads to extreme weather events, unpredictable water availability and water scarcity in several areas of the world. Such impacts can drastically affect the quantity and quality of water globally and create important limitations in people’s health, and productivity.

The ones affected primarily, and most are unprotected populations, farmers, children, women.

According to UN:

weather conditions are projected to affect availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater, and further deteriorate water quality. Low-income communities, who are already the most vulnerable to any threats to water supply are likely to be worst affected. More floods and severe droughts are predicted. Changes in water availability will also impact health and food security and have already proven to trigger refugee dynamics and political instability. An integrated view on water, the biosphere and environmental flows is required to devise sustainable agricultural and economic systems that will allow us to decelerate climate change, protect us from extremes and to adapt to the unavoidable at the same time.

Although, most ecological, and social systems have built-in adaptive capacity, the rapid rate of climate change calls for scientific and technological solutions to support and enhance local adaptation methods. To this regard, the focus lays on integrating knowledge and technology to ensure assistance to water sustainability goals.

The need for local targeted information for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters has been depicted by the General Assembly of the United Nation in the Sustainable development goals.

It is now possible to analyse Satellite images on a farm and regional scale very precisely, combining traditional earth observation algorithms with the latest data processing capabilities, cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Current in-house technology combining radar and optical data together with in-situ data can reach a definition level of 50m. Isolating spectral signals containing traces of moisture it is possible to locate water points and monitor their evolution in order to facilitate smart irrigation at farm level or even predict and monitor droughts over larger territories.

This has been developed by Starlab together with TAHMO, within the objectives of the EU funded project TWIGA where the aim is to provide currently unavailable geo-information on weather, water and climate for sub-Saharan Africa by enhancing satellite-based geo-data with innovative in situ sensors.

Extracting information for irrigation management from satellite data at high scale and high resolution combining AI and traditional EO techniques has been used in the ESA funded project eo4sd (earth observation for sustainable development) in the framework of an effort to apply EO-based information in support of Integrated Water Resource Management.

Instinctively, asides of scientifically, we understand that the global need for environmental sustainability, requires solutions that imply close collaboration among all crucial stakeholders. Synergy (syn+ergo, Greek for the combined power of a group of things when they are working together, that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately) is our only way forward.

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