Could you describe your professional and/or personal experience relating to water? Where does your interest in water come from?

My interest in water began as a young adult in southeastern Nigeria, with a profound interest in the Earth system and how it affected lives.  It was not uncommon that geography and chemistry were my favorite subjects in high school. Hydrologically, southeastern Nigeria is heterogeneous and known for its seasonal abundance of water. The major problem we face is water scarcity due to the inherent difficulty to access the water sources for daily usage and the increasing effect of climate change characterized by low rainfall with ripple effects such as drought, low plant growth and poor sanitation. With these problems at heart and the desire to contribute with effective solutions, I ended up choosing a major in Geological sciences because I knew how relevant the knowledge would be in finding new solutions to the water crisis in my country. In one of my internships at an engineering firm, I had the opportunity to work with the engineering team on a couple of projects in the water sector, I was involved in groundwater prospecting, dam construction, developing, and installing new groundwater systems. I was able to use many of the skills and knowledge I acquired at the university such as research, geophysics and computation and apply them to a real-world scenario.

At the Technical University of Darmstadt, a degree in Tropical Hydrogeology and Environmental Engineering further broadened my horizon in the water sector. I learned more about how to carry out scientific research, the latest innovations in water management, remote sensing, geographical information systems (GIS) and Earth observatory and how they can be handy in providing solutions to the water sector and tackling environmental related problems. I leverage these vast experiences coupled with the advanced application of space technologies in the deployment of smart agricultural solutions and drought management in my internship at Agriwatch BV Netherlands.

You have participated in the development of ‘smart agriculture’ solutions to monitor the effects of climate change on crops using geospatial data. Could you elaborate on smart agriculture? How do they impact the agricultural sector? What are their effects on water management?

Smart agriculture is a generalized term that incorporates the implementation of technology in the agricultural sector, and it is one of the emerging trends in this sector. A wide range of data is used such as Earth Observatory (EO) imagery, Global Positioning System (GPS), Artificial intelligence (AI) and Sensors. It is also a common practice to use information from climate, crop and soil to optimize yield with good cost benefits. The integration of these technologies and information aids the farmers to make well-informed decisions on planting and harvesting procedures. Although the impact of smart agriculture is site-specific, its importance in water management is majorly by the implementation of smart irrigation systems and improved irrigation efficiency using soil moisture sensors to allow for water use only when needed and in areas with increased drought conditions, thereby improving water conservation. It also enhances data collection process on the farms, remote monitoring of fields and farm equipment monitoring to improve production rates.

What smart agriculture solutions have you developed? Could you describe the data and technology you used (source, resolution, main applications, etc.)?

I worked on a smart agriculture project that was focused on identifying and tracking the effects of climate change and topography on crop development in the Twente region of the Netherlands.

The project involved the use of earth observation and remote sensing data to delineate the zones affected by drought. Our interest was also in mapping out the variation of good to bad maize plants in percentage during a growing season by spectral analysis of the satellite data together with field surveys to quantify the field production.

By using spectral imagery from the Superview-1 satellite sensor, high-resolution data with a spatial resolution of 0.5m Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) for panchromatic imagery and 2m for the multispectral bands, the crop health and variations in the field were analyzed. Ground-truth drone images of the farm were used to validate the results from the Superview-1 satellite. This was achieved by superimposing the satellite images to match the ground-truth polygon dimensions. The stress levels and texture of the field were mapped using unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery.

Calculations and analysis were performed using Normalized difference water index (NDWI) to determine the water content; topography was mapped by using Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and unsupervised classification with 1 to 5 classes indicating the intensity of the heat stress across the field. All these techniques were generated to predict the areas with low yield and produce early forecasts about drought conditions in the field.

For precision farming, site-specific management zones were developed using sentinel-2 data to precisely map out the unproductive areas and recommend the necessity of specific agricultural interventions in particular field zones like developing optimized fertilization or irrigation according to the need of the zones.

Can space technology help monitor the pollution caused by agriculture? If so, how?

Yes, space technology can help monitor the pollution caused by agriculture. There are instances where contamination of nearby water bodies by Phosphorus and Nitrogen from agricultural farmlands were detected and effectively monitored using satellite remote sensing. Remote sensing approaches can be developed to monitor the spatial extent of these contaminations. Earth observation data are used to augment established methods for monitoring water quality. The ESA Sentinel-2 and Landsat-8 satellites provide high resolution, large scale, and monitoring of the water quality in inland bodies.

Also, it is possible to monitor air pollution caused by the use of ammonia fertilizers. Although mapping ammonia is difficult because of its short time lag in the atmosphere and its characteristic feature of forming ammonium aerosol with acid pollutants, the ammonia radiation measurements can be obtained by isolating the signature of ammonia using the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) sensor of the MetOp-A satellite.

How is space technology and data used to improve stormwater management? Could you elaborate on the project you designed to model a retrofitted stormwater management system in the Quebrada Seca region of San Jose?

Space technology is used by hydrologists and water managers to obtain hydrologic parameters, land use/land cover (LULC), water quality, surface temperature, vegetation and precipitation from different satellite sensors. Information from these parameters can provide a rational basis for designing and monitoring the performance of stormwater management features and how they can vary with specifications. Remote sensing and related technologies can provide an alternative for measurement or quantification of Elevation Models in selecting suitable locations for drainage infrastructure whilst improving sustainability and amenity of urban areas.

The San José project aimed to reduce stormwater runoff by treating the stormwater as close to the source as possible. The analysis was achieved using High-resolution images from Google Earth Pro with 4 rectangular KML points of the area and the road network was obtained using OpenStreetMap. The image from Google Earth Pro was processed in QGIS using Semi-automatic Classification Plugin (SCP) to generate the land use land cover.

The macro-classes for the categories were defined for each LULC type, for example, buildings, road network, high vegetation and bare land. After its definition, a representative pixel area was selected for each macro-class, which is also called Region of Interest (ROI). We applied the “maximum distance likelihood” algorithm to automatically define all the pixels in the image with a similar colour represented by the trained ROI macro-class.

A bioretention basin was most convenient for our study area considering the size of the element and its components. It was validated by determining the performance of the element (Bioretention basin) using the peak flow calculation and removal efficiencies. The classification report with the percentage for each LULC was generated using the SCP. The information from LULC and DEM was used to determine the proportion of the available catchment area where the stormwater management element could be constructed.

Can you elaborate on how to sample groundwater and how to do pumping tests?

Yes. I would like to first define pumping test as the process that involves pumping groundwater from a well at a steady rate and measuring the change in water level (drawdown) in the pumping well and any neighbouring wells (observation wells) or surface water bodies before and after pumping.  The major instrument used is the pump, and it is critical to the success of the pumping test. A water level meter is installed in the well to record the readings at top of the hydraulic head at intervals. The discharge reading and water level reading before the pumping began are documented in the logbook. Instruments needed are a generator, a submersible pump, discharge pipe, cables, Electric water-level indicator, pressure transducer, logbook and stopwatches.  

The same procedure is repeated for the recovery process using the same time intervals after a quasi-steady state is reached. It is advised during pumping test campaigns to extend the outlet about 100m away from the pumping well to avoid or minimize recirculation.
The objective of the pumping test determines the duration of the test. Pumping tests can span from hours to days or even weeks. However, classic pumping tests are aimed to last 24 to 72 hours.

Moreover, pumping test campaigns are categorized into Step tests, Aquifer tests, Proving tests, Test on single borehole and Impact tests. Each one of these tests is tailored to the required information needed.

Here, it is important to highlight the importance of applying standard operating procedures when performing groundwater sampling. These standard operating procedures are designed to ensure that the water chemistry is not altered by the sampling process. The sampling procedure applied could also be subject to environmental regulations, hence it is advised to find out which procedure is most suitable and legally compliant with the campaign before embarking on it.  

In the case of sampling from a well using a submersible pump with an electrical source, the well should be purge-pumped to remove 2 to 3 times of the (groundwater) well volume before taking samples. The discharge measurements are obtained by connecting the flow-through cell with the sensors to pumping outlet. The sensors in the flow-through cell measure the in-situ parameters such as electrical conductivity, temperature, pH value and dissolved oxygen, while the major ions, minor ions, organic, pesticides, and bacteria are obtained in the laboratory. This scenario is typical when sampling is done during the pumping test, but in the case where only one sample is needed, samples should be collected at end of the pumping test when the well is purged.

This procedure is a little bit different when collecting samples directly from supply wells or using depth samplers, but the major differences lie in the means of getting water out of the sources or wells. All other in-situ and laboratory parameters to be tested remain the same.

To monitor groundwater, the GRACE and GRACE FO missions allow the observation of changes in mass. You have designed, implemented, operated and managed systems to control and remediate contaminated soil and groundwater. When it comes to water quality of groundwater resources and aquifers, can you think of or imagine any space-based technology that supports its monitoring or better management?

lthough I did not use space-based technology in the remediation project, I think the Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite (InSAR) can estimate aquifer volume change since InSAR data have been used to image surface deformation associated with groundwater withdrawal and replenishment. This remotely sensed data can then be combined with other techniques to yield good results.

As a young professional, what do you feel is missing in the current scientific debate and management of water resources?

Forecasts on climate change, despite being susceptible to uncertainties, provide a valuable insight into potential future impacts and limitations on water resources. Water scarcity causes significant economic losses, which may eventually become more widespread in many locations as a result of these impacts.

The possibility to predict and plan for future water resource management challenges is now hindered, in part, by inadequate regional climate change models and long-term weather forecasts. Uncertainty regarding future climatic conditions makes it increasingly challenging to monitor and respond to changes in the availability and quality of water resources.

Significantly, these insufficiencies from forecasts and data availability can hinder the management of climatic disruptions and can increase the severity of economic losses due to changes in water level, for instance, in a case of inland waters affected by drought.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, commercial and domestic water sectors were disrupted. The demand for domestic water has increased whereas non-domestic (commercial, industrial, and institutional) demand has declined due to the pandemic. The net effect of these adjustments varies depending on the proportion of domestic and non-domestic water demand across the various economic sectors. Future water demand, mostly for household consumption, will be determined by how the majority of the population prefers to work in post-COVID-19 years. However, there are insufficient assessment procedures to evaluate water demands as the virus mutates into new variants.

As water demands increase, there is a distressing lack of efficient global policy frameworks in place to deal proactively with such emerging issues. The sustainability of the current governance systems in the context of trends such as unsustainable water resource use, growing climate change pressure, or the consequences of population increase for water consumption in food and energy production is under speculation. Emphasis is placed on the roles of leadership, representativeness, and legitimacy, which are important elements of the processes that enable good policy creation and implementation trajectories.
However, the lack of a structured global policy framework focused on water and climate change, and consequently a lack of credible and representative global leadership, may impede development in this sector in the future if not addressed in due time.

You seem very passionate about technology. How do you do to keep yourself up to date with the fast advancements in the field?

The broad technological innovations across all disciplines including water management makes it imperative that one must stay updated with recent technological advancements.

Applying myself to several projects irrespective of how challenging they are have helped me a lot in acquiring more knowledge on technological advancements within my field. Also, I spend time experimenting with ideas as I work on projects, and whenever I notice gaps, I look out for ways to bridge those gaps without disregarding the prior knowledge I have. I realized that while working on projects and seeking solutions, I end up stumbling on more knowledge and ideas.

I utilize social media especially LinkedIn and Twitter by following mentors and influencers dedicated to new technologies and trends, I read their publications and follow the tech sites they recommend.

Lastly, I leverage community groups such as academic research groups with my peers, a network of other researchers with similar research interests and industry professionals to share ideas on recent technological applications and innovations. These associations are an excellent opportunity for me to learn about developing technology, how others are utilizing it, and anticipated developments in their sector.

You have a diverse set of skills that you apply to water management and hydrogeology. What do you consider the most important basic skills to develop? Which advice would you give to water professionals who want to start using them?

There is a myriad of skills required in the field of water management. These skills largely depend on specific water-related aspects in consideration. In the course of my practice, I find ArcGIS, Groundwater modelling software like MODFLOW and HEC-RES, Water quality assessment tools and data management tools very useful.  

I would advise water professionals who want to start using these skills to first identify the spatial, social and cultural aspects of water needs in their environment. Furthermore, they can tailor their skills to address global challenges such as climate change, urbanization, population growth and others within the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework. It would also be a good idea to add coding skills to the package, since this will give the individual more flexibility.

What do you consider key data management and coding skills and tools to complement the knowledge of a professional in the water sector? How and where can you best start with it? 

Data management and coding skills largely depend on the type of data being used; some projects might require only a one-off application of some tools. For a long-term application of data management tools, I would recommend Microsoft excel, and for coding skills, I would recommend Python and JavaScript as they have more usability in the water and space sector.

The on-set of acquiring coding skills could be daunting with time and finance as top challenges. However, I recommend navigating these challenges by starting with programming languages such as R and Python with open-source lectures on platforms like YouTube. I propose starting with one language that corresponds with your goals/target and then branching out to others if one feels very motivated. However, these languages share basic principles, so it is possible to begin with one and move to another as the need arises.

How do you foresee the use of new approaches and technologies in water management?

Recognizing the complex and diverse water systems of the past and present is essential for designing future sustainable development in terms of socioeconomic frameworks, regulations, and cultures.

The synergy of observational data and modelling will be critical in the future. I think there will be more integration of non-conventional technologies in the water management sector, more implementation of automation, virtual systems and cloud-based technologies, leading to lesser field time and more remote opportunities for monitoring and management of water resources.

What do you personally need to innovate and who do you think should get together to bring and spread innovation into the water sector?

Merging conventional and non-conventional means to solve water problems, especially those caused by climate change and population demand. United Nations entities can provide more support to research and scientific organizations in the member states to enhance their national capacities to make improved developments to facilitate the SDGs.
I think a new micro-organization should emerge to assist the UN and other related agencies to take on water-related SDGs and break them into measurable and attainable goals or processes.

If you had three free wishes to be fulfilled by a Space Agency, what would they be?

It is noteworthy to mention that the Space Agency over the last few years has made giant strides in reaching some of the SDG goals. However, there are areas which I would appreciate the agency to look into.

First, I would wish for an early integration of space knowledge in fundamental educational schools. As young students grow and mature into independent thinkers, innovations can be triggered in the space sector. However, this will not be possible without changes in educational policies at local and international levels (to foster this integration).

Secondly, I would wish that more high-resolution earth observatory data would be made available for developing nations to foster further studies. That would help to accomplish SDG 6 which addresses the sustainability of water and sanitation access by focusing on the quality, availability and management of freshwater resources and also helps to reduce the impact of climate change on these nations.

Finally, I would wish that open-source tutorials on how to use and implement space data would be made available to anyone interested in learning them.

What is your favorite aggregate state of water and why?

The liquid state is my favorite aggregate state of water. Aside from the ease of transforming liquid water into other states, I enjoy and use liquid water often. I am also fascinated by artesian groundwater flow and the beautiful sight of oceans and springs.