From 10 to 13 May 2022, the United Nations Officer for Outer Space Affairs organized the 5th International conference on the use of space technology for water resources management. The conference was hosted in a hybrid format in Accra, Ghana, by the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani on behalf of the Government of Ghana. The event was attended by several senior government representatives of the host country including Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, the Honorary Minister of Education Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum as well as Chief Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration - Ambassador Rameses J. Cleland. This high-level attendance has underscored the strategic importance of the thematic areas of space technologies and water to the future of Ghana.
The conference was sponsored by the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) and supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Inter-Islamic Network on Space Sciences and Technology (ISNET). It convened over 100 attendees at the venue and more than 700 registered for online participation from almost 90 countries. The event has enabled to exchange on the use of space technologies and space-based data for better water resource management, hydrology and ecosystem preservation. Over 70 scientific presentations were delivered, with slides available for download here. The conference themes included:
- Space-based technology and data for managing water-related extremes: Floods
- Space and water quality
- Space, water and health
- Space-based assessment - monitoring of groundwater resources
- Space-based technology and data for managing water-related extremes: Water scarcity and drought
1. Space-based technology and data for managing water-related extremes: Floods
The key message of this session was striking. 2,2 billion people are exposed to floods worldwide, of which almost 600 million live in poverty! The need to reduce vulnerability requires better analysis, forecasting, early warnings, and better planning. In the session covered examples of fantastic operational projects at watershed or country level and innovative research results. The main thread between all presentations was the importance of data integration, which was not only acknowledged but its value demonstrated with examples from Rwanda, Malawi, Iran and others. The research and projects presented used and integrated space-based observations of soil moisture, precipitations, flood monitoring to develop diverse forecast models with validation at varying levels of precision. The increased access to satellite-based imagery, and the new feasibility of using global models because of the increasingly higher resolution of data was demonstrated which is also important for the numerous global, continental, and regional capacity building programmes.
2. Space and water quality
The session presented research projects that demonstrate the value of integrating high-resolution satellite imagery to well-established models, including for lake water quality and chlorophyll-a estimates. Considering the complexity of acquiring long-term in situ data in those specific environments, the modelling used, and the monitoring approaches do provide reliable results, at least for preliminary estimates of water quality. Due to insufficient resolution of space-based data, this was not possible only a few years ago. Such analysis is also promoted thanks to open and free access which is now a reality. The presentation of GEO AquaWatch’s (a Space4Water Stakeholder) constant observation and processing of data in Wisconsin informed attendees about globally accessible datasets and data products, as well as on training resources.
3. Space, water and health
The connection between space technologies and global health might appear blurry but their link is stronger than one might think. The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, supported by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, has a Working Group for Space and Global Health. Telemedicine, epidemiology, water and air-borne diseases are some of the priority themes of that group.
In this session, excellent examples of the link between various diseases and water bodies, precipitation (incl. the lack thereof) or water quality were provided. For example, meningitis infection in sub-Sahara Africa can be accelerated by dust, either during storms or during the dry season. Satellite observations of precipitations, drought early warning systems and drought monitoring are thus critically important in reducing vulnerability of population to meningitis.
The impacts on global health of various pollutants, including from activities such as illegal mining that release pollutants in water for agriculture and consumption, are also increasing. Assessment of the pollutant sources, as well as their dissemination and deposition in the environment and in water bodies, is improved with high resolution imagery and with better methods for their integration to socio-economic and population data. Similarly, mosquito borne diseases, such as malaria, are closely related to the presence of water bodies and of their quality. The European Early Warning System for Mosquito Borne Diseases (EYWA) represented in this session is an operational continental system that aspires to become a global model to optimally use satellite-based data in improving global health.
4. Space-based assessment - monitoring of groundwater resources
A vast majority of water consumption is from groundwater driving the necessity to preserve its volume and quantity. Estimates of its availability can be indirectly deduced from gravitational measures from satellite observations of superficial water reserves in surface water bodies, soils, snow and glaciers. Global initiatives such as the or the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and its follow-on mission (GRACE-FO), and the Global Gravity-based Groundwater Product (G3P) provide data as well as operational models and methods to estimate monitor groundwater.
Studies in Morocco and in Syria presented in this session, showed how the mapping of geological features, lineaments and fractures from satellite imagery serves the discovery of groundwater and help to its management, including through three dimensions analysis, in particular in semi-arid regions.
The management of groundwater is of high complexity, including concerning the precise use of satellite data. The Tod’Aers Global Network (TGN) advocates for cross-continental cooperation and synergies in geospatial applications to support water resources management and water sustainability in Africa to overcome the risks of misunderstanding or incorrect interpretation.
5. Space-based technology and data for managing water-related extremes: Water scarcity and drought
Water scarcity can be the result of long-term changes in climate or in population impacts as seen, for example, in the reduction of water volume in Lake Chad. Seasonal or multi-seasonal droughts have diverse impacts on water availability, agriculture and water quality. Several presented research projects in India, Europe and Africa support argument that high-resolution satellite data is improving early warning and monitoring of droughts. Validation of satellite image analysis remains a considerable challenge as in situ data often lack required quality or periodicity. WMO presented an open platform for monitoring and decision-making at national and local levels with capacity building resources in this session.
UN-SPIDER presented the disaster risk reduction perspective in drought management where Risk = Hazard / Vulnerability / Exposure convergence. It also highlighted the importance of past time series to understand long-term trends of drought indices and correlate to impacts. Presented examples of services such as from the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) are able to generate maps of key attributes such as occurrence, seasonality, recurrence, water transition and max water extent.
Field examples from the Zambezi basin compared various meteorological and hydrological processes models controlling runoff water and how regional resources such as RCMRD/SERVIR use an open-source approach to quantify flow/discharge. Furthermore, the relationships between long seasonal and interannual spatio-temporal variability with climate dynamics and the compounding effects of extreme events and their effect water resources availability were established. All presentations demonstrated the unique value of high-resolution imagery and their relevance in solid models.
Various continental and global initiatives were presented or announced, including the WMO meeting in Abidjan next year about moving from policy to action to support member states with integrated drought management.
Panel discussions, conclusions and outlook
On the last day, the event hosted two panel discussions, one on capacity-building and one on user needs assessment within the water related sectors towards the space sector. It is an asset for the space and water communities to establish these networking opportunities that may one day lead to partnerships between relevant actors and stakeholders addressing the needs of all.
To take the identified user needs and their necessary assessment a step further, we would like to raise your awareness to the upcoming 1st Space4Water Stakeholder Meeting to take place 27-28 October, in Vienna, Austria.
After high-level representatives of the Republic of Ghana provided closing remarks in a formal ceremony, session chairs represented observations and conclusions in a technical closing session.