How do you personally and professionally relate to water? Where does your interest in water come from?
I was personally interested in water from the moment I entered the American University in Cairo to pursue my undergraduate studies in construction engineering. During water engineering-related courses, such as hydraulics, sanitary engineering, water treatment, and irrigation courses, I learned that water is facing serious issues and stress. Some of these issues can be addressed by engineering. For example, when designing water pipelines, treatment facilities, dams, etc., we design so that we can save almost every drop of water. In the case of designing water and irrigation pipelines, we have to select appropriate materials to lessen the friction and losses in energy in water and to save on water and power through pumps that will be used to keep water flowing. Furthermore, we need to overcome water losses due to leakage through accessories. When designing treatment facilities, retention times have to be checked to preserve every drop. In water resources management, I learned how to manage surface water, groundwater, rainwater, and even wastewater in efficient ways. When designing dams and barrages, we can save water by designing according to the best hydraulic operating conditions. When you save water, you save the lives of human beings, other species and you contribute to preserving ecosystems.
Water engineering includes a great diversity of topics, such as pipeline systems, harbor, coastal, shoreline, and irrigation engineering, well field design, flood management, surface water and hydraulic design of dams, barrages, weirs, and other hydraulic structures as well as water quality assessment. Maintaining good water quality allows to provide people with clean healthy water that they can consume in different ways.
I professionally relate to water in many ways; namely, studies (my PhD), teaching, research, supervising PhD and MSc thesis, and design and consultancy. I have over 25 years of experience in teaching both graduate and undergraduate water/wastewater courses. I also taught in a professional program and trained international engineers in courses in water resources management at the training center of the “Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources”.
Could you tell us more about your current work, latest project, or proudest professional moment?
I am an Associate professor of water and environmental engineering in the Civil Engineering Program at the German University in Cairo. My work involves teaching and research. I have around 30 published papers in international refereed journals and conferences, and a book concerning barrages and their effects on the water quality of rivers. I chaired, and co-chaired sessions at international conferences. such as the Eleventh International Structural Engineering and Construction (ISEC-11) conference, hosted at Nile University in 2021. I was also the PI of a research grant concerning “Solar Canals” in Egypt and their effects on minimizing evaporation, maximizing power generated from solar energy, and preserving water quality in water canals.
My research areas are diverse and cover the following: surface water hydraulics; hydraulic design of barrages and other hydraulic structures; water quality and water quality modeling; water/wastewater treatment; global warming and its effect on water quality in rivers; waste management allocation plans for rivers; water resources management and water scarcity; and generating hydropower from water.
Currently, some highlights of my activities include:
- Generating hydropower from hydraulic jumps- standing waves- that are created downstream dams and barrages. A research paper is finished and submitted for publication in the “Water Switzerland” international Q1 Journal. It is initially accepted by the chief editor and is currently under review.
- Supervising a PhD together with a colleague at the Department of Hydraulics and Irrigation Engineering at Cairo University on protecting coastal cities in Egypt from shoreline abrasion due to sea rise.
- Organizing a workshop on global warming, and its effects on water, and other fields that will be conducted jointly by the civil engineering program (GUC) and the German Embassy in Cairo in November 2023.
But the list could go on with research on smart water system solutions for Egyptian cities; like, smart stormwater systems for example, and adapting them in new cities in Egypt, or solid waste processing and control as well. I have supervised, and still am supervising, undergraduate and graduate thesis in water engineering on a variety of topics. As for the design and consultancy, I designed irrigation systems; calculated flashflood quantities, designed protection against flash floods for roads; and designed water/wastewater systems for some Egypt governorates.
I give guest lectures and panel discussions concerning water issues and such related to global warming and am an expert of the COSIMENA platform. In November 2022 I was hosted by Missouri S&T University to give a lecture on “Environmental Hydraulics: The Decision-making Influencer of Mega Water Projects”.
Having been an environmental engineer and researcher for more than 20 years, what role have space technologies played in your work? How do space technology and applications contribute to water quality monitoring, hydrology, or any water-related field?
I strongly rely on meteorological data to mathematically model or simulate water quality parameters as well as on satellite data from Landsat-8 OLI L1 and L2 (for data on surface temperature) and Sentinel-2 (2A and 2B) for monitoring certain water quality parameters. Not all relevant water quality parameters can be mapped via optical satellites.
I mostly rely on data from meteorological satellites (such INSAT-3D and INSAT-3DR) and use parameters, such as air temperature, precipitation, and humidity in my mathematical modeling simulations to calculate water quality parameters dissolved oxygen concentration in water, total dissolved solids, turbidity, algae counts, pH, salinity, alkalinity, etc.
Using Landsat-8’s surface temperature measurements I calculate the effect of surface temperature– on water quality parameters through modeled equations. For example, when temperature rises, the dissolved oxygen concentration in water decreases, which is not good for the fauna and flora in the water and for the surface water quality in general. Without satellite data, my work would be very difficult, as I would need to rely on gauging station data which is tedious and hard to find. On the contrary, satellite data are often available free of charge online.
As for hydrology, satellites detect changes in atmospheric moisture, in soil, lakes, ponds or rivers, and even groundwater. This indicates where water is stored on Earth and at what time of the year. Satellites can detect water by detecting changes in Earth's gravitational pull, highlighting the movement of water on the planet. Changes over time let us know where on Earth water is increasing or decreasing.
In my hydrology classes, I use satellite images to highlight hydrological concerns related to watersheds. In surveying engineering classes my students are trained on how to level points with GPS receivers (getting the heights of points relative to each other and relative to a common datum), transfer the collected data on a computer, and analyze it with GIS software.
Considering the important role of groundwater in arid regions, are you aware of any use of GRACE Mission data in Egypt? Have there been attempts to collect in-situ data to be combined with data from the GRACE Mission? What are the challenges related to monitoring changes in groundwater remotely, and where do you see potential?
There is a study by colleagues at the hydraulics and irrigation department at Cairo University that uses GRACE mission data to assess groundwater storage in the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS). They calculated the loss in groundwater storage occurring in each of the four countries (Chad, Egypt, Libya, and Sudan) sharing the NSAS. The study concludes that NSAS is losing its groundwater storage at a very high rate. Egypt is losing its groundwater storage at the highest rate.
In most parts of Egypt, we have a problem of high salinity in the groundwater, especially in the arid desert areas. Monitoring groundwater storage around the year will determine if we can rely on the less saline groundwater aquifers or not. Egypt is going to launch its satellite Nexsat-1 from China at the end of 2023, after completing all tests in Germany. According to the Egyptian Space Agency, the satellite shall inter alia monitor water and water reservoirs, as well as the movement of water through these different hydrologic reservoirs (i.e., rivers, oceans, seas, groundwater).
What are the key influences on water quality in Egypt? How do water quality questions relate to water scarcity in the country, and what can be done to improve or conserve water quality?
There are two broad categories of water pollutants; namely; point sources and non-point source pollutants. Point source pollution originates from a defined source with a specified location; like a factory, a hospital a hotel, etc.; whereas, nonpoint source pollution is for an undefined area like for example runoff from agricultural land. We have both of these pollution sources in Egypt. The key influences on water quality in Egypt are:
- Sea water intrusion from the Mediterranean Sea;
- Salinity intrusion from lakes and its influence on groundwater;
- Factories and industrial activities that are located along the Nile River;
- Waste from hotels that are overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and the Nile River;
- Organic waste from hospitals;
- Untreated disposal of agricultural wastewater with pesticides and insecticides;
- Global warming and its implications on water quality; and
- Pollution of groundwater from leachate coming from sanitary landfills which is used for solid waste disposal.
Water pollution leads to reduced availability of clean water, and thus this enhances the problem of water scarcity. To conserve or improve water quality, the laws and regulations concerning waterways’ quality standards and safety set to prevent pollution of waterways in Egypt have to be strictly implemented, e.g. by charging fines from violators. Moreover, awareness campaigns through media, schools, and universities must educate people about the consequences of polluted water bodies.
When using space-based technologies in predicting and simulating water quality parameters in rivers, what parameters do you or can you observe? What are good proxies used when monitoring rivers? What are the differences in monitoring water quality in rivers vs lakes?
River environments are very different from Lake environments. Lake stratification is the tendency of lakes to form separate thermal layers during warm weather. Typically, stratified lakes show three distinct layers: the epilimnion, comprising the top warm layer; the thermocline (or metalimnion), the middle layer, whose depth may change throughout the day; and the colder hypolimnion, extending to the floor of the lake.
Thermal stratification is a natural occurrence, in any static body of water like lakes. It occurs when the surface layer of water, warmed by the sun, becomes less dense than the water underneath it. The surface layer remains on top and the lower layer, deprived of surface contact and insulated from the sun, continues to get colder. This increases the difference in density between the two layers and makes it even more difficult for them to mix together.
In rivers; on the other hand, thermal stratification only occurs in the deepest pools in case summer flows are insufficient to mix the water in the bottom of the pools. If present, thermal stratification only breaks down when flow increases. This thermal stratification at lakes is important to study because it influences most water quality parameters and most species living in water. For the above reasons, water quality parameters and living species are affected differently in both environments. Moreover, lakes are standing water bodies – unless there is wind to move water but this lacks constant current-; whereas, rivers are moving bodies of water – mostly fast moving bodies of water-. A lake has an anaerobic zone- the anoxic zone- containing anaerobic bacteria, whereas most rivers don’t have this anaerobic zone.
Water quality parameters can be divided into three categories: chemical, physical, and biological. Water and environmental experts dealing with riverine water look for and monitor mainly the following water quality parameters: pH, alkalinity, salinity, total dissolved solids (TDS), total suspended solids (TSS), conductivity, heavy metals, Dissolved Oxygen concentration (DO), Biochemical Oxygen demand (BOD), algae count and nutrients, organic matter, and turbidity.
The Sentinel-2 Water Quality Script (Se2WaQ) uses Sentinel-2 products (L1C & L2A) to display the spatial distribution of six relevant indicators of water quality in surface water bodies overall:
- the concentration of chlorophyll-a,
- the density of cyanobacteria,
- colored dissolved organic matter,
- dissolved organic carbon, and
- water colour.
Determining and assessing the quality of surface waters is critical for managing and improving its quality. In situ measurements of water samples for subsequent laboratory analyses are widely used to evaluate water quality parameters. While such measurements are accurate for a point in time and space, they do not give a spatial or temporal view of water quality needed for accurate assessment of water bodies. Remote sensing tools and satellites on the other hand provide spatial and temporal views of surface water quality parameters that are not readily available from in situ measurements, thus making it possible to monitor the landscape effectively and efficiently, identifying and quantifying water quality parameters.
Substances in surface water can significantly change the backscattering characteristics of surface water. Remote sensing techniques depend on the ability to measure these changes in the spectral signature backscattered from water and relate these measured changes by empirical or analytical models and formulas to a water quality parameter. Each empirical formula will depend on the nature of the surface body; namely, whether it is a river, a lake, or any other surface water body. So, empirical formulas developed for rivers have to be used only for rivers; whereas, the empirical formulas used for lakes have to be used only for lakes. This is so because hydraulic and hydrologic conditions differ for different surface water bodies. So as for the water quality remote sensing techniques; they will not differ depending on the nature of the surface water body. What will differ is the empirical formula where these data from remote sensing devices will be plugged in.
River water surface area, river water surface slope, and water surface height could be remotely measured through remote sensing devices. From these measurements, estimates of rivers’ discharge, flow depth, and flow velocity can be derived and calculated. All these parameters; whether geometric parameters like water height, surface area, or hydraulic parameters such as discharge and velocity are used in the calculations of water quality parameters. Hence, they are vital parameters in the determination of water quality parameters in water.
What are the challenges related to temporal resolution, river flow and water quality?
To improve hydrologic simulations of runoff, especially the peak runoff events, we need high temporal resolution data. Furthermore, the temporal resolution of calibration data such as stream discharge could also significantly influence model parameter estimations and predictions. This is so because if the calibration data are more accurate the calculations and determinations of the water flow and river water quality will be more accurate and more reliable as these calculations rely on of the temporal resolution data of satellites. For example, if a mathematical model is constructed to predict some hydraulic and water quality parameters of a river, then this model should be calibrated against real-life data; this data is obtained by satellite imagery and could be used as a standard against which the constructed mathematical model could be calibrated. Space technologies allow for monitoring at regular time intervals, a relatively high temporal resolution compared to when relying on in-situ data.
A confusing aspect of temporal resolution can be in the interpretation of high and low temporal resolution. Well, these are relative terms. The lower the period of time between two consecutive captures of the same area, the higher the temporal resolution. The higher temporal resolution simply means that the satellite revisits and captures data from a specific site more frequently. A satellite with a temporal resolution of 1 day is said to have a higher temporal resolution relative to a satellite with a temporal resolution of 15 days. For example, polar orbiting satellites have a temporal resolution that can vary from 1 day to 16 days. So a satellite with a temporal resolution of 1 day will be of high temporal resolution compared to a satellite that has a temporal resolution of 10 days for example.
Traditionally, the quality of surface water bodies is monitored by in situ measurements resulting in low spatial and temporal resolution of historical data. Remote sensing has great potential for monitoring and identification of water bodies over large-scale regions in a more effective and efficient manner. But they also revisit the same location on a repeated basis. To provide reliable monitoring of water quality, surface reflection derived by multispectral sensors needs to be integrated with in situ measurements.
If an incident happens where a discrepancy happens and the temporal resolution is not the same, this would possibly mean that the temporal resolution of the satellite was not high enough (revisits were on larger time intervals) so that the hydrologic conditions, hydraulic conditions, and thus water quality parameters have changed due to natural causes but the satellite could not capture this changes because it revisited the location under consideration less frequent. Sometimes this discrepancy happens because of some natural, technical, and economic conditions as discussed in the following paragraph on the challenges faced by the satellite imagery and temporal resolution data.
Although satellite imagery has improved in recent years, we still face challenges such as:
- expensive licenses for imagery,
- too low resolution for the area of interest available,
- atmospheric conditions affecting the images, and
- unavailable data for the required time and place
- cloud cover, especially but not solely during disasters such as storms
If you were to provide an overview of the key hydrological and water resource questions concerning Egypt, what needs to be considered most importantly? To what extent is the potential of space-based monitoring used to address the water issues in the country or region?
In Egypt, we rely on the Nile River being our main source of water as well as on groundwater. In addition, seawater from the Red Sea is a source of water after its desalination. There are many attempts to increase the water resources in Egypt by covering irrigation canals, and by using treated wastewater in the irrigation sector, which is a major consumer of water in Egypt. Furthermore, rainwater is captured to recharge aquifers. Another concern is how to provide poor areas such as rural villages with sufficient water to ensure good enough sanitation.
Egypt had several remote sensing satellites e.g., Egytsat1 and 2 but they are no longer active. Recently they launched the Horus 1 and 2 satellites, a remote sensing satellite, developed by Egyptian and Chinese experts. Horus 1 carries a high-resolution imaging camera to serve the Egyptian state’s strategic vision 2030 requirements for sustainable development. Nexsat-1, the newest Egyptian satellite is to be launched from China at the end of 2023. These beforementioned satellites aid in hydrological monitoring.
Most of our readers will be aware of the importance of the river Nile, are there any other water bodies we should know about in the country?
All water canals in Egypt are branches of the Nile River. Even Lake Nasser is formed upstream of the Aswan High Dam. In addition to the Nile River, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt has desalination plants constructed on the Red Sea, therefore it represents a source of water for the country. The Grand Aquifer in the Western Desert is the main groundwater source of Egypt.
Small lakes distributed over Egypt include Karoun Lake, Manzala Lake, and Borolos Lake.
How sustainable is it to build cities in the desert, or to divert water to where people are instead of moving people to existing water sources? How is that even done and how long can it be maintained?
We already have the Sheikh Zayed Canal (around 300 km long with all its branches and water structures) located in the Toshka area, which is a very arid desert spot in Egypt. Sheikh Zayed Canal takes its water from Lake Nasser – the lake formed upstream of the High Dam- via a large pumping station. The Toshka depression serves as the spillway of the High Dam and has five lakes to serve as a spillway to the dam. The Sheikh Zayed Canal is meant to serve an area of 55000 feddans of agricultural reclamation land. Part of Egypt’s population is meant to migrate to this area to work with cultivation in this newly reclaimed land. This is meant to be a sustainable community using its water and planting its crops, eating it, selling it, and living with the money they will get from that.
Another project that Egypt is involved with nowadays, is digging a 174-kilometre watercourse- river- in the Western Desert to irrigate its largest-ever agricultural project with reused water. This project is meant to irrigate the New Delta area in Egypt. This project is the largest ever agriculture project which aims to reclaim and cultivate 2.2 million feddans — nearly a quarter of Egypt’s current agricultural land. The project consists of 30 water lifting stations and a mega tertiary wastewater treatment project, Al-Hammam Plant, to guarantee a sustainable water source. The plant can treat 7.5 million cubic meters of agricultural wastewater per day. The watercourse consists of an open canal, while the smaller part is made up of pipes buried in the sand.
The previously described projects are two mega projects that are going on in Egypt: The Toshka project is concerned with diverting Nile River water to the desert, whereas, the New Delta project is concerned with using treated wastewater and pumping it in watercourse in the desert. In both cases, people are meant to migrate and live in the desert in a sustainable agricultural community.
What challenges do you see in the use of space technology for hydrology and water-related topics in the MENA region?
I see that many countries, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan have been using space technology for a while now. Data extracted from these space technology devices are aiding scientists in these countries to carry on their research. The challenge that I see concerns data sharing. It would be very beneficial to create an online platform for sharing satellite data among all countries of the MENA region.
Which changes do you observe in terms of the acceptance and accessibility of the technology for younger generations?
Through my work at the university, I can see that youth is very oriented towards technology and innovation. I think they quickly understand space-related technologies for water and other fields we teach. I strongly believe that the young generation will be faster learners.
Are you aware of the African Space Agency being hosted in Egypt? What potential do you foresee for Africa with the inauguration of that institution?
As was announced, “The agreement is aiming to boost and fulfill the African strategic policy in the space domain and enhance activities of using space technology and its applications to attain sustainable and economic development and promote the well-being and welfare of the African citizen. The agreement and the general framework regulates the relationship between the Egyptian government and the agency, which will serve as a platform for research, innovation, and technological as well as technical education in Africa.” – Egypt State Information Service (https://sis.gov.eg/Story/183297/Par'lt-approves-Egypt's-hosting-of-African-Space-Agency-headquarters)
From my point of view, this will make it easier for African countries to collaborate in research using space technology. It will facilitate data collection and exchange between scholars and researchers in different African countries, which will augment knowledge and cooperation through research for a better and healthier Africa. Hopefully, a more advanced space industry will be reached through this agreement.
Based on your experience, how can we improve awareness and capacity building on the use of space technology for water? Where do you see challenges in this field?
It should start by engaging pupils in schools to create awareness from a young age, e.g., by inviting them to space and water related events. In addition, they should learn about water-related problems and space technology that could address water problems. This will pave the way for those who later pursue studies at universities. I also believe that every university teaching water science or engineering curricula should have at least one course addressing the history and the latest space technologies relevant to water.
You mentioned your background in water and wastewater treatment, and the project done by NASA to recycle astronauts’ waste into energy and power. Can you tell us more about it?
Let me summarize how wastewater is recycled onboard the ISS: Astronaut wastewater such as urine, sweat, or even the moisture from their breath is collected. Then impurities and contaminants are filtered out of the water. The final product is potable water that can be used to bathe, or drink. Recycled water on the ISS is cleaner than the water that most of us drink.
Until now the recycled/treated wastewater on Earth is not used as a source of drinking water. Municipal wastewater treatment follows a different, lengthier, and more sophisticated process than the one on the ISS. On Earth, we have primary, secondary (biological), and tertiary (chemical and physical) treatment procedures to recycle wastewater and we may use the end product of the treated wastewater for irrigation purposes, but not yet for drinking purposes.
A technology currently researched by NASA in order to be adopted onboard the ISS and spaceships can generate energy (biofuel) as a byproduct of wastewater treatment. The technique uses bacteria to digest the organic matter in the wastewater. When bacteria digest organic matter they release energy. Nowadays, there is a trend to capture this energy and use it to operate some parts of the wastewater treatment plants themselves. I am curious if we could use some of the energy generated by the bacteria in operating some electrical circuits of the ISS.
Do you have any advice for young professionals and students who would like to specialize in using space-technology for water?
I would them to orient their mind towards interdisciplinary work and teamwork. After all, augmenting space technologies with the water field is an interdisciplinary act. Young professionals should be acquainted with the physics and other aspects of water behavior in space and on different planets as well. Because water behaves differently in space, as there is microgravity, and also different ranges of temperature and pressure than these found on Earth, surely water behaves differently in space and on the different planets. I believe such knowledge will aid young professionals in better using space technology related to water; I even believe such knowledge will make them able to discover and come up with further technologies and find a solution concerning water within a totally new dimension.
If you had three free wishes to further capacity building for the next generation of professionals working on water issues in Egypt, what would it be?
- To cooperate with neighboring countries to maximize efficient water use in each country.
- To conduct awareness campaigns.
- To make Egyptian people feel the importance of water and make them use it in a right and efficient way that will lead to its preservation.