World Water Week 2010 - Space Perspectives On Inland Water Bodies
    By Bente Lilja Bye | September 6th 2010 05:54 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Bente Lilja

    Earth science expert and astrophysicist writes about Earth observation, geodesy, climate change, geohazards, water cycle and other science related...

    View Bente Lilja's Profile
    This week is World Water Week. The big event takes place in Stockholm Sweden where Stockholm International Water Institute SIWI is organizing this yearly event. The World Water Week is an unique forum for the exchange of views and experiences between scientific, business, policy and civic sectors from around the globe. By harnessing and linking best practices, scientific understanding, policy insight and decision-making, the meeting aims to transcend rhetoric and provide real answers to the world’s water-related problems. This year the topic, besides the fact that it is all about water of course, is The Water Quality Challenge: Prevention, Wise Use and Abatement.

    Access to clean water and proper sanitation is one of the 8 millenium goals. Better understanding of the water cycle is thus an important task for our global society, particularly in the developing countries. With increased urbanizations in areas where access to fresh water seems to be in peril makes events like World Water Week and research connected to better understanding of the water cycle an even high political and scientific priority. The overall niche for the current World Water Week period 2009-2012 is Water – Responding To Global Change.

    Observing inland water from space
    Earth observations from space have been used as a source of information about water for many years. We've seen satellite images of various floods on numerous occasions. The immense flood in Pakistan is particularly impressive in the many satellite images from both ESA and NASA satellites.

    Flood in Pakistan
    Flooding in Pakistan. The areas shown in blue are inundated regions. Credit: NASA

    Pakistan flooding 2010
    ESA's Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR). The image illustrates the difference between 24 August and a reference image of 8 September 2009. The areas shown in blue are inundated regions. Credits: ESA

    New techniques
    New space-based observation techniques are emerging though. ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity - SMOS has the potential of becoming an additional space-based technique to underpin our understanding – and warning of potentially hazardous floods – by giving information about the degree of water saturation of the soil in the vicinity of rivers like Indus. If the soil is saturated with moisture at the point when rivers are flooding the uptake of water by surrounding soil will be limited.

    SMOS was launched last year and activated under the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters to assist in the relief and management of the flood in Pakistan. The result was reported in Floods in Pakistan.

    SMOS Pakistan flood 2010

    ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite sees the flood in Pakistan - and also potentially how much the surrounding soil is saturated with water. Credit: ESA - CESBIO

    In May I talked to one of the pioneers in the field of satellite altimetry and SMOS expert on retrieving information about soil moisture – professor Philippa Berry. You can watch and learn here:

    Too much - too little water
    The problem in Pakistan right now is too much water, but the areas downstream from the Himalayas have also the opposite problem, namely too little water. This particular complex problem is discussed in a feasibility study ordered by The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a challenge for the people in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas to adapt to the increased climatic risk of severe floods and droughts. Read the report Too much - Too little Water: Adaptation to Climate Change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas and Central Asia.

    With the help of another kind of satellite, GRACE, measuring variations in gravity, one is able to see that ground water is retracting from large areas in India. This was discovered last year in a study published in Nature and reported by NASA as NASA Satellites Unlock Secrets to Northern India's Vanishing Water. It turns out that human activities such as irrigating cropland does not allow the groundwater aquifers to refill with the same pace.

    Grace groundwater India

    In the period 2002 - 2008 GRACE data show that Northern India is loosing a lot of its groundwater (red). Credit: NASA

    We can only hope that meetings like World Water Week are able to absorb the information that space-based Earth observations, like I've given a few examples of above, is properly integrated in their programs and discussions. I am sure there are room for improvements though - and hence this little article...

    Water is important.


    I just discovered that this article is the no 1 top story over at California Water News (when writing this). And thus I learned about California Water News. It so happens that California is one of those places that face grave fresh water shortage so it makes sense that they have a special focus on this topic.

    Check out their California Water News for more on water issues. It concerns more than Californians as this state alone is the 5th largest economy in the world...
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Yes, the bulk of California is a desert - and water is a key reason why housing prices are high.  In most parts of the US developers would simply build more houses but here you have to have a water plan, namely how you are going to provide water for the new people.

    Corrupt oligarchs manipulating California (Los Angeles) water is the plot of the movie Chinatown.  And Hetch Hetchy Valley, the twin of the famous Yosemite, is now the O'Shaughnessy Dam to provide water to San Francisco. 
    Interesting to see that Harrison Ford got involved in making a video about restoring Hetch Hetchy valley

    Seems that farming and evaporation is the major user of water, and using drip feed could save millions of gallons - there's a plan to restore the famous Yosemite National Park Valley
    The Tuolumne river water stored in the Hetch Hetchy valley of Yosemite National Park can be stored elsewhere and delivered without interruption to its end users by implementing a few, relatively inexpensive modifications:

    * Pump water from Cherry Creek into the San Francisco water system. In most years this replaces the water that is not captured just downstream from Hetch Hetchy Valley, and provides additional energy (Figure 1).
    * Divert water from the Tuolumne River into the San Francisco water system downstream from Hetch Hetchy Valley with a simple diversion structure and a pumping station. This will preserve much of the energy the reservoir currently generates (Figure 2).
    * Enlarge Don Pedro Reservoir.
    * Enlarge Calaveras Reservoir.
    * Increase utilization of underground water supplies.
    * Implement comprehensive water efficiency and water recycling programs to reduce consumer bills and stretch existing water supplies.
    * Improve public health by installing new filtration equipment for water from the Tuolumne River.

    Removal of the dam would result in the loss of less than two-tenths of one percent of California's yearly electricity use. All the lost power could be replaced by the programs described above, plus an energy efficiency program. The efficiency program would actually save homeowners and businesses more than the cost of implementing the energy efficiency program. It would also be possible to build solar, wind, or conventional gas-fired power plants.

    Restored Valley view
    Restored Valley view


    Aitch :)
    Apropos "Seems that farming and evaporation is the major user of water"

    I learned that the soil in California is turning useless due to too much irrigation. The soil becomes too salty as the irrigation water picks up minerals from the ground (if the water comes naturally as rain it doesn't pick up those minerals/salts).

    And it empties the reservoirs of course. It is not all that easy when water is scarce.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Bente - brown&caldwell produce not just the California waternews but regional waternews efforts for: midwest, rockies, florida, texas, arizona, northeast, pacific northwest, etc...

    Water is a big issue everywhere - especially in the water world - and has only caught on with the major media outlets in the past year.

    Hank - housing is expensive in CA not because of water shortages but because of supply and demand: lots of people want a residence. water is an afterthought....

    No, if it were possible just to build more houses to meet demand (by driving down price with supply) I would have started a construction company and so would plenty of others regardless of political clout.  It was always sporadically necessary to show where you would get the water before building but since there were fears during the population boom that developers might build first and worry later, in 2001 Senate Bills 610 and 221, the “show me the water” bills, required demonstration of adequate long-term water supply before approval of development projects.
    Flooding in Pakistan has raised many questions about long-term sustainability for regions exposed to extreme climate conditions. While traditional humanitarian aide ensues, researches are finding new ways to achieve long-term viability, while also taking preventative measures against these unpredictable disasters.

    I'm interested in discussing one such group and their agricultural investment into discovering better ways to reduce crop loss. Please take a moment to consider this as it would be a privilege to submit a guest post to In the meantime, don't hesitate to pass along any questions, comments or concerns. It was a pleasure visiting your blog, and hopefully we can collaborate!



    Hi Jack,

    Being prepared for the unpredictable is a key issue for the future. Even though we still be do our best to monitor and understand - and predict - we shall have to be prepared to handle the unpredictable.

    I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean when you say "I'm interested in discussing one such group and their agricultural investment into discovering better ways to reduce crop loss."

    I wonder what kind of group do you mean? And what agricultural investment - irrigation? And more 'water resistant' plants? (if flooding is most likely)

    Thanks for you comments. :-)

    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    High salinity in recycled water systems{irrigation ]is due to low carbon soils.Carbon has a huge capacity to store nutrients and would filter them out for plant use leaving purified water to pass through into rivers.Low carbon means that the soil is turned into a seive instead of a sponge and neutrients just pass through meaning more neutrients have to be added to make up the loss and rivers are polluted with too much salt.The N.P.K. no carbon mentallity does not recognise that plants need an environment of high carbon around their root zones so that by osmosis they can absorb it to use to manufacture protein.One of the main causes of obeisity in america is low protein to ch2 ratio in food because of this kind of agriculture people have to consume far more ch2's than they need in order to get the protein they need.There is no shortage or excess of water overall just bad distribution.If we would spend as much money on building canals as we do on roads we would have both a source of water distribution and an environmentally friendly transport system.One horse can pull 50 tons in a barge on a canal.