The online tool could help us better predict and manage water scarcity and water-related disasters.
Water at your fingertips on a smartphone? Here it comes.
A newly launched app called Water-Related Ecosystems enables anyone to measure and monitor changes in water provision globally. Developed by Google, UNEP and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the tool provides the most comprehensive database on surface water to date.
The project builds from a 2016 collaboration between JRC and Google around the Global Surface Water Explorer. Three years and 10 million hours of computing time later an updated database of the global water surface is open to the public. Built with the help of Google Earth Engine, the current version of the map spreads 35 years into the past and features detailed statistical tables for national and water body level maps.
The breadth of the database allows comparing changes at national and regional levels, helping to better understand how water policies and infrastructure developments influence water bodies over time. The database also allows us to consider permanent and seasonal changes, as well as various political and watershed boundaries.
The map is expected to help countries individually improve upon national water monitoring systems and release some of the resources to other tasks. Countries including Canada and Namibia are already exploring ways to integrate the map’s features with national water monitoring systems.
François Soulard from the Statistics Canada is hopeful about the map’s applications. “Given the increasingly rapid changes to the Canadian hydrology caused by climate change and other factors, this platform will prove to be an invaluable asset to measure environmental change in Canada and report progress on the 2030 Agenda,” he says.
In practice the map may also help us to better understand occurrences of drought, floods, and other extreme weather events, predicting and managing their future dynamics. Built on an open-access approach, the datasets can be easily downloaded in a variety of convenient formats.
Currently, over 60% of the global population is impacted by water scarcity while many others suffer from water-related disasters and diseases. Water is also intricately linked to multiple sustainability challenges such as climate change, poverty elimination, and sustainable food provision, making it one of the key issues of our time.
Thus, the map will also help raise awareness about the critical importance of water for sustaining life on Earth.