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Scientists pioneer drought monitoring system

CSU Monterey Bay participates in groundbreaking research

Droughts are more than simply climate phenomena. They can have profound social, environmental and economic impacts and can also be a major threat to food production throughout the world. Though much progress has been made in monitoring droughts and understanding their causes, there is still a strong need for better forecasting and monitoring. CSU Monterey Bay researchers John Shupe, Vanessa Genovese and Cyrus Hiatt are joining a team of scientists from Arizona State University, in partnership with NASA Ames and a non-profit organization known as Planetary Skin Institute (PSI), to develop a more efficient drought monitoring system. The work is funded by a grant awarded by NASA's Earth Science Applications: Water Resources program. The goal is to provide water managers, irrigation districts, policymakers and scientists with information that will improve drought detection, awareness and decision-making and yield cost savings in areas of food production and hydropower generation. The system uses satellite detection of potential water shortages and an ecological model developed by NASA. This method offers a cheaper alternative to costly gauge and sensor networks.

The team from Arizona State will generate bi-weekly maps of an index that reflects potential water shortages. Initial applications will be the countries of Brazil and Mexico at 4 to 8 km resolution and then globally at 16 to 32 km resolution. The drought maps will be derived from satellite sensor on board the Earth Observing System Aqua and Terra satellites. Under the direction of the CSUMB team, the NASA model has been applied to many regions throughout the world, with particular focus on watersheds in California. On this project, the team will continue using this model to generate 1 km resolution maps of soil moisture, potential and actual evapotranspiration, volumetric water content, and runoff in Brazil and Mexico. The team has already completed global runs at 8 km. Additionally, stream flow will be modeled on selected basins within drought-prone regions in Brazil and Mexico. The data from both teams will be integrated into a web-based platform called Drought ALERTS (short for Automated Land change Evaluation, Reporting and Tracking System). This global visualization system will overlay standard maps with scientific datasets related to natural resources management for near-real-time detection of water stress.

These will be complemented with auxiliary data such as irrigation sectors, river basins, stream networks, reservoirs, political boundaries, temperature and precipitation, among others. Within the platform, users will be able to query, visualize, and plot metrics that explore the different dimensions of drought, including the precipitation and temperature forcing and the vegetation response. Summary statistics, such as drought duration and intensity, will be provided to help them gauge the level of the threat. For more information: NASA-CASA Project website ASU Hydrology Planetary Skin Institute

Title: Drought Monitoring #1 PSI ALERTS, a platform for visualizing natural resources and aiding decisions. Here, ALERTS shows vegetation disturbances derived from 1-km MODIS (gridded maps), the locations of identified disturbances (circles) and Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) time series at a disturbance location. Courtesy of PSI CSU MONTEREY BAY SOURCE: John Shupe, 650-604-0629 ASU CONTACT: Nicole Cassis, 602-710-7169