How do you personally and professionally relate to water? 

Growing up in Israel, water scarcity was a constant backdrop to my childhood. The arid climate and frequent droughts shaped my relationship with water from an early age. One vivid memory that remains stamped in my mind is the series of TV campaigns highlighting the importance of water conservation. I recall sitting in front of the television, concerned by the urgency conveyed in those campaigns. The images of dry landscapes and the emphasis on every drop of water as precious left a lasting impression. It instilled in me a deep sense of mindfulness about water usage and a keen awareness of its scarcity in our region.

In essence, my upbringing in Israel, amidst the constant reminders of water scarcity, has played a significant role in shaping my personal mindfulness and professional dedication to addressing environmental challenges related to water and that spans two decades. Beginning with my master's thesis at the Department of Environmental Physics and Solar Energy within the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, I delved into water scarcity issues in Central Asia. Specifically, I conducted mapping using satellites of clay soils (Takyrs) in Turkmenistan, which are crucial for retaining water reserves.

Since those early investigations, my research focus has expanded to encompass various aspects of water dynamics, including climate change impacts, soil moisture, floods, and flash floods. A pivotal tool in these studies is remote sensing, allowing us to collect valuable data and insights, particularly in remote areas like the Central Asian sand seas. Going even further afield, my research extends to Mars, where we investigate Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL). These dynamic, low-albedo surface features exhibit seasonal patterns, manifesting annually during late Martian spring, growing throughout summer, and receding as summer concludes. The formation mechanisms of RSL remain a subject of debate , with proposed hypotheses involving the presence of water or brines. Unlocking the applications of this space technology enables the exploration of water-related phenomena, both on Earth and beyond.

You have been working to inspire young girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM? 

I've always been fascinated by how things work and the potential for innovation to solve real-world challenges. As a child, I was very courageous, and I wasn’t afraid to try new things. Reflecting on my childhood through the lens of adulthood, I now understand that my curiosity naturally led me to explore STEM subjects. Throughout my journey of exploration, I've been fortunate to have inspiring mentors and supportive friends who not only nurtured my interests but also showcased the practical applications of STEM in unravelling complex problems. A particularly influential force has been my life partner, Dr. Nitzan Maman, whose encouragement and shared passion have been invaluable.

Understanding the impact of technological advancements on society has become a driving force behind my enthusiasm. This awareness not only motivated me to embark on a STEM-focused career but, more importantly, to actively contribute to the forefront of discovery. My aspiration is not just professional; it is a commitment to making a meaningful difference in the world through the transformative power of STEM.

What were the main challenges you encountered (or still encounter) in your journey as a woman? How did you overcome them? What would be the main advice to girls and young professionals that want to build a career in STEM?

I'll begin by addressing the latter part of your question. From my perspective, the most valuable advice is simple yet profound: TRY! For me the act of exploration through trial is the sole method to ascertain whether something truly resonates with you or proves effective in your endeavours.

And that also relates to addressing the main challenges encountered in my journey as a woman in STEM, which has been an integral aspect of my professional development. One significant challenge has been the existence of gender biases and stereotypes that discourage you to try as a woman. Overcoming this required not only proving my competence but also actively challenging preconceptions by consistently delivering high-quality work. I made sure to build for myself a network of diverse supportive mentors, colleagues, and friends, both male and female. Surrounding myself with individuals who understand the unique challenges faced by women in the field has provided valuable guidance and encouragement.

You have been teaching for about 15 years. In your opinion, how has the interest of students evolved over the years in learning and applying space-based technology and data on their daily work and research?

Initially, there was a sense of novelty and intrigue surrounding these concepts. Students were often captivated by the idea of accessing and utilizing data from space for practical applications.

Over the years, I've witnessed a substantial shift in perspective. With the increasing integration of space-based technology into various industries and academic disciplines, students now perceive it as an essential tool rather than a mere novelty. There's a growing recognition of the tangible benefits and transformative potential that space-based data brings to their fields of study and professional pursuits.

Witnessing this evolution, I had to update my teaching style to emphasize not only the technical aspects of space-based technology but also to nurture creative problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills. I encourage students to not only understand the existing applications of space-based data but to envision innovative ways to apply it in their research and future careers. This approach has sparked a greater sense of ownership and enthusiasm among students, as they recognize the broader impact and entrepreneurial opportunities associated with these technologies.

Advancements in technology and the accessibility of satellite data have empowered students to engage more actively with real-world applications. They are not only learning about space-based technology but are also incorporating it into their research projects, applying it to address complex challenges, and contributing to advancements within their respective domains.

Overall, the evolving interest of students in learning and applying space-based technology and data reflects a transition from curiosity to practical integration. As the relevance and applicability of these technologies continue to expand, students are increasingly motivated to leverage them in innovative ways, enriching both their educational experiences and the impact of their research endeavours.

Space-based technology and data are known to be key in supporting the achievement of the SDGs. What has been done to raise awareness and promote the use of space technologies among different stakeholders (general public, government, private agencies, institutions, etc.) around the world? What more could be done to speed up this process?

This question strikes a chord, despite significant efforts, there's still a challenge in effectively communicating the impact of space-based technology on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the wider public. Numerous initiatives actively work towards raising awareness and harnessing the potential of space technologies for SDGs. Notable efforts include public outreach endeavours, exemplified by UNOOSA activities and World Space Week, creating meaningful connections with diverse audiences. Government policies, such as the impactful Copernicus program, lay a robust foundation. Collaborative ventures, including UN-SPIDER, NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) Mission, participation in global initiatives like SWOT, and contributions as the VENµS mission led by the Israeli Space Agency and CNES, underscore the international commitment to leveraging space capabilities for sustainable development.

Furthermore, active involvement in capacity-building programs like the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) Fellowship Program and private sector engagement with Astroscale's Space Debris Removal initiative showcase a holistic approach to maximizing the potential of space. Contributions to open data platforms such as NASA Earthdata and ESA Earth Online highlight the importance of accessibility to valuable information. 

To accelerate progress, beyond acknowledging funding as a crucial factor, it is essential to broaden exposure to other fields. Defining supportive policies, cultivating deeper public-private partnerships, participating in global forums, and advocating for targeted education and training collectively emerge as pivotal strategies.

Your PhD thesis focused on Mobility and stability of the Central Asian sand seas (Karakum and Kyzylkum), a study by remote sensing and geographic information systems. Can you elaborate on sand seas and the methods for their space-based assessment?

This question seemed at first as an opportunity to delve into my doctoral research, yet this is in fact ongoing research. Sand seas, or ergs, are expansive areas dominated by sand dunes, and the study of their behavior is essential for understanding environmental changes, particularly in the context of climate change. 

The Karakum and Kyzylkum sand seas, situated in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, represent intricate landscapes shaped by wind dynamics, sediment availability, and vegetation cover. These regions are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, making the assessment of sand dune mobility and stability crucial for sustainable land management. 

Due to the vastness of the study area, the methodology was primarily space-based. Various satellite imagery was used, such as optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) varying in spatial and spectral resolutions, a cornerstone for mapping and monitoring the sand seas. These images facilitate the identification and tracking of changes in dune morphology, providing insights into the dynamic nature of these landscapes. Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), derived from satellite data, are further instrumental in understanding the topography of sand seas. They enable the mapping of elevation variations, aiding in the identification of key features crucial for assessing morpho dynamics. 

Remote sensing data, including multispectral imagery, also contributes to assessing vegetation cover within sand seas. Monitoring changes in vegetation is crucial, as it directly influences dune stability and is sensitive to climate variations. Utilizing time-series satellite data, change detection methods help identify alterations in dune morphology over different periods. These analyses contribute to quantifying the rate of dune migration and understanding the broader implications of climate-induced changes. GIS spatial analysis provides a comprehensive platform for integrating various data layers. This aids in creating detailed maps and spatial models, enhancing our understanding of the relationships between environmental factors affecting sand sea dynamics in the context of climate change. 

Ground truthing through field validation remains a critical step, ensuring the accuracy of remote sensing, GIS, and OSL analyses. Field data collection helps corroborate satellite observations and enhances the reliability of interpretation models. Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating techniques provide a valuable chronological perspective to understand the history of sediment deposition. By analysing the luminescence signals from quartz grains, OSL helps in determining the time since the grains were last exposed to sunlight, offering insights into past dune movement and stability. 

In the context of climate change, this multidisciplinary approach not only contributes to our understanding of sand sea dynamics but also provides valuable information for developing adaptive strategies in the face of changing environmental conditions in these vulnerable regions.

Based on your experience, what do you consider key capacity building needs in Israel, the middle east and Central Asia? 

Given the shared arid nature of the region and anticipated challenges, critical capacity-building needs emerge. While aspects of water governance and infrastructure are relatively established, there's a growing recognition of the necessity for adaptive capacities to address emerging challenges linked to climate change impacts and escalating water demand. This includes adapting to shifts in precipitation patterns, rising temperatures, and extreme weather events. It is important to emphasize the enhancement of adaptive capacity, promotion of sustainable water management practices, and improvements in data collection and monitoring capabilities. Focusing on efficient irrigation techniques, precision agriculture, and sustainable farming practices is essential for optimizing water use in agriculture. Additionally, there is a need to develop capacities for community engagement and awareness programs to actively involve the public in water conservation efforts. Tailored initiatives and regional partnerships play a vital role in building resilience and ensuring the sustainable utilization of water resources.

How do you think one should assess what kind of capacity building is needed in a country? 

In my opinion, assessing a country's capacity building needs, particularly in the context of water and space technology, requires a systematic approach focused on identifying existing gaps. A key strategy involves fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration among space agencies and industries, hydrologists, climatologists, and policymakers. This collaborative effort ensures a more holistic understanding of water management challenges and facilitates the integration of space technologies into interdisciplinary research. Such an approach not only identifies missing capacities but also enables the development of effective and sustainable strategies for enhancing water-related capabilities.

Can you elaborate on the monitoring of indigenous water harvesting systems on takyrs in Turkmenistan by remote sensing? What is the purpose of these water harvesting systems, how do they look like, what are the requirements to space-based technology and what data/methods and models can be used to monitor them? Further, what in-situ data is needed for training, testing or verification of space-based approaches?

Indigenous water harvesting systems on takyrs in Turkmenistan serve the critical purpose of capturing and storing run-off water in arid regions. Takyrs are clayey depressions in desert areas that can temporarily retain water after rainfall. These systems help harness and utilize this scarce resource for agricultural purposes, sustaining plant life, and supporting local communities. The water harvesting systems on takyrs can take various forms, including traditional methods like qanats, wells, or more modern adaptations such as micro-catchments, check dams, or underground storage facilities. Looking at takyrs from space, these surfaces vary in size, ranging from 0.5m in Central Karakum to hundreds of square kilometers in western Karakum.
Recognizing the anthropogenic degradation of takyrs over the past few decades, it becomes imperative to monitor and assess their efficacy as catchment areas. The primary objective of our study was to map the spatial extent of takyrs and analyse changes over time.

Digital image processing of Landsat MSS and Landsat 7 ETM+ images were used to identify, map and classify the takyrs and estimate their overall area and degradation rates. Thereafter, a change detection procedure was applied. Accuracy was assessed by comparing the Landsat results with higher spatial resolution images of QuickBird. 

Additional ground control points with GPS measurements were used to validate the classification results. In-situ analytical spectral device (ASD) measurements were performed to characterize and determine soil properties, including composition, moisture content, minerals, and organic matter. This was achieved by analysing the reflectance spectra and comparing them to the satellite imagery.

How was your experience working with indigenous people? Can you share your lessons learned? 

Working with indigenous communities is an enriching and truly amazing experience. It provided me with a lot of respect and invaluable insights into their unique perspectives, traditions, and ways of life. While there are always initial challenges, such as language barriers and differences in culture, I found that these were easily overcome through the universal language of basic humanity. Establishing connections built on mutual respect, trust, and a shared appreciation for our common goals facilitates effective collaboration and communication. One of the key lessons learned from this experience is the importance of cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness. Embracing and understanding the local customs not only fostered positive relationships but also allows a more subtle understanding of the communities' needs and aspirations.

For me, the exchange of knowledge and ideas is bidirectional. I learned as much from the indigenous people as they did from our collaborative efforts, creating a dynamic and mutually beneficial working relationship.

On a lighter note, culinary experiences are always a delightful aspect. The local cuisine in Uzbekistan for example, was not only delicious but also served as a bonding point during informal interactions. It added a flavourful dimension to the overall experience and highlighted the significance of shared meals in fostering connections and understanding. If I must rate, field work and travelling with indigenous communities is the best part of my work journey, filled with meaningful connections, cultural exchange, and, of course, amazing local cuisines.

What are the climatic specificities of Central Asia when it comes to their relation with water? How do you expect the climate to change in the region?

Central Asia is characterized by a continental arid and semi-arid climate with hot, cloudless, dry summers and moist, relatively warm winters in the south and cold winters with severe frosts in the north. The region includes countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The dominant geographical features include vast deserts, high mountain ranges (e.g., the Pamirs and Tian Shan), and large steppe areas.

This is a predominantly arid area, with low annual precipitation levels. This arid climate leads to water scarcity issues, as the available water resources are insufficient to meet the demands of the growing population and agricultural activities. The region heavily relies on glacial meltwater from the mountain ranges for freshwater supply (by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers). Changes in glacial dynamics can significantly impact water availability downstream, affecting both agriculture and human settlements. Central Asia faces complex transboundary water management challenges due to shared rivers and lakes. Cooperation and conflict over water resources are common among the countries in the region. 

Climate change is likely to worsen the existing water-related challenges in Central Asia. Central Asia is expected to experience a temperature increase, leading to more evaporation and higher water demand. This could intensify water scarcity issues. Climate models suggest altered precipitation patterns, potentially leading to more erratic rainfall. This could impact agricultural practices and exacerbate water scarcity in certain areas. Rising temperatures are contributing to the retreat of glaciers in the region. This retreat can affect the timing and quantity of meltwater, influencing river flows and water availability downstream.

Like other regions, Central Asia may experience more frequent and intense extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts. These events can disrupt water management systems and pose challenges for agriculture and infrastructure. Climate change may further complicate transboundary water issues, requiring enhanced cooperation and adaptive strategies among Central Asian countries.

You participated in the BGUSAT project. Could you briefly describe this project? What kind of data does BGUSAT collect? What are the main uses of the data? What are the main opportunities and limitations of nanosatellites?

BGUSAT was a truly exciting personal and professional venture! 

Nanosatellites are a unique category in the field of satellite technologies and space science. These satellites weigh only a few kilograms, and thanks to the minimization trend of electronic components, this platform can be instilled with advanced technological abilities and cameras for a relatively low price. In the past years, several Earth Observation (EO) missions using nanosatellites have been successfully launched and used, imaging mainly in VIS-NIR. BGUSAT is an example of such EO/remote sensing, with the uniqueness of a 3U single-band SWIR sensor providing a spatial resolution of 600 meters (about 1968 ft) per pixel. 

This first Israeli research nanosatellite was launched from India on the PSLV-37 in February 2017 as part of a collaboration between the Israeli Aerospace Industries (MBT), Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the Israeli Space Agency. In contrast to established and well-known satellites and their EO sensors, the properties and feasibility of conducting scientific research using BGUSAT were yet unknown, adding an extra layer of excitement to the research. The overall objective was threefold: first, a proof of concept – aiming to demonstrate the technological capability of miniaturization. Second, providing students at Ben Gurion University with hands-on experience. Lastly, conducting state-of-the-art science; BGUSAT’s data is used for ongoing climate and meteorological research such as cloud coverage & storm observation, Co2 concentrations. Terrain transformation, differentiation of clouds from snow, determination of soil and vegetation moisture content, wildfire monitoring, Earth’s Airglow, and flashfloods. Such a sensor raises the question of the tradeoff between spatial resolution and spectral coverage according to scientific usage. Comparison of BGUSAT images with other well-established and known earth observation satellites, such as LANDSAT 8 images, was further used to investigate the potential contribution of single-band images. 

Nanosatellites hold many opportunities, as this platform can be used for various applications. BGUSAT project was born as we understood the limitations and the potential of using such a platform. 

Photo of Dr. Shimrit Maman taken in front of BGU Sat
Photo of Shimrit Maman in front of BGUSat Ground segment. Photo by by Dani Machlis.

Can you elaborate on your innovative methodology for enhancing the resolution of images produced by low orbit satellites? 

Continuing the above question regarding BGUSAT, one of the applications was flashflood monitoring in arid regions. The success of the satellite in its ongoing mission allowed us to explore new directions and collaborate with different research groups, including those from computer science, mechanical engineering, and communication engineering. This is the exiting part of scientific research, as you have a chance to always explore new directions, even if this was not your original goal. 

Producing high spatial resolution images offers clear advantages for accurate image processing, such as enhancing the quality of feature extraction for target identification. However, achieving such resolution comes with costs in terms of computing time and resources. Low Earth orbit satellites, due to sensor quality and satellite motion, often have limited resolution performances.

In this case study, we aimed to improve BGUSat's spatial resolution (600m per pixel, a moderate resolution for SWIR, with a revisit frequency at 32°N latitude of less than one day, i.e. a high temporal resolution). While this made BGUSat useful for rapid event tracking such as flashfloods and large-scale phenomena monitoring, the satellite resolution was insufficient for detailed mapping and small-scaled feature extraction. For comparison, Landsat TM and ETM+ data have a similar SWIR band with ground sampling distances of 120m and 60m, respectively.  Yet they have a revisit period of 16 days, a major disadvantage.

Earth Observation sensors involve a tradeoff between the spatial, temporal, and spectral resolutions, due to sensor hardware limitations. Considering that, we challenged our way of thinking. One question that arose was whether we could launch satellites that provide low spatial resolution and enhance it through advanced algorithms, either onboard the satellite or in the laboratory.

To address this, we took a layered approach to improve the spatial resolution. One aspect used Super-Resolution algorithms. These advanced algorithms leverage deep learning machine intelligence models using neural networks to predict higher-resolution details based on the available lower-resolution data. The other two algorithms used combine motion compensation, using accurate camera calibration and satellite pose estimation, and jitter compensation via optical transfer function reconstruction.

The resulting image is more informative than any of the input images. This high-resolution image, constructed from low resolution image can also serve as a finer and more accurate input to post-processing algorithms benefiting the identification of detailed structures. Additionally, the reconstructed high-resolution satellite image aids in tasks such as accurate geolocation and camera calibration. 

What are the innovations you foresee for the use of space for water management and hydrology in the coming years?

It's evident that we're witnessing significant advancement toward a water resilient planet. There are continued advancements both in remote sensing technologies and applications, such as improved satellite sensors and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems, which are paving the way for higher spatial and temporal resolutions, providing detailed insights into water availability, quality, and dynamic changes over time. A noteworthy innovative mission contributing to this progress is the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT). This groundbreaking technology marks a major step forward in expanding our understanding of Earth's oceans, lakes, and rivers. It introduces the first satellite exclusively designed for studying surface water, delivering high-resolution, two-dimensional maps of surface water levels for both oceans and inland waters.

Looking ahead, as in most fields, AI will be a major player. Anticipate a stream in smart water management systems as technology progresses. The integration of space-based technologies with ground-based Internet of Things (IoT) sensors will give rise to innovative systems capable of real-time monitoring, efficient resource allocation, and proactive responses to events like floods or droughts. This intersection of space-based insights and AI-driven solutions is set to revolutionize water management practices in the coming years.

What is your favorite aggregate state of water? 

Liquid water is my go-to favorite. It's like the Goldilocks of water states — not too solid, not too gaseous, just right 😊.