Satellites and Citizen Scientists Help Track Water in Bangladesh

NASA satellite data and citizen scientists are giving the Bangladesh government a better understanding of the country's surface water storage.
LOCSS was funded as part of the 2016 CSESP solicitation. Lakes in Bangladesh were added to the LOCSS network in 2019. Credit: LOCSS.

More than 70% of land in Bangladesh is devoted to agriculture, and almost half of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector. Knowing the availability of surface water throughout the country is critical information for water-food security decisions. Until recently, however, the Bangladesh government did not have accurate figures about surface water storage. A NASA Citizen Science for Earth Systems Program (CSESP)-funded effort is providing the first quantification of the total volume of water stored in lakes and wetlands in Bangladesh.

The work is part of a project called Lake Observations by Citizen Scientists and Satellites (LOCSS). Led by Principal Investigator Dr. Tamlin Pavelsky at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, LOCSS is a global effort to better understand changes in lake water volume. Using lake water height measurements collected by a network of citizen scientists combined with satellite images (for estimating lake surface area), researchers can calculate the volume of water in a lake, monitor changes in volume, and predict how these changes may impact humans and wildlife.

While the Bangladesh government had records of water levels for specific locations, it did not have these data at regional scales. A LOCSS team led by Dr. Faisal Hossain at the University of Washington used NASA satellite data to develop a method to track water storage in various regions of Bangladesh and created several data products to interpret these data.

The Bangladesh government found these data so valuable for agriculture and water resources planning that it is adopting the data products and investing more than $150,000 (U.S.) to build a nationwide citizen science-based surface water monitoring network.

Three LOCSS citizen scientists record lake height data at the Ciklir Beel gauge near Rangpur in northwestern Bangladesh. More than 500 gauge readings are available at this location. Credit: LOCSS.

“The BWDB [Bangladesh Water Development Board] definitely will benefit and use such a satellite-based tool with lake gauge data from citizen scientists for a variety of decision making related to flood management, water management, and even agricultural management,” says Fazlur Rashid, BWDB director general.

This work also complements NASA’s upcoming Surface Water and Ocean Topography altimetry mission (SWOT; scheduled for launch on December 5, 2022). Jointly developed by NASA and the French Space Agency (CNES), with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency and the United Kingdom Space Agency, SWOT will make the first global survey of Earth’s surface water, observe fine details of ocean surface topography, and measure how water bodies change over time. The BWDB has prioritized preparation for operational use of SWOT data to inform decision making and solutions.

Until SWOT data are available—and thanks to satellite imagery and dedicated citizen scientists—NASA’s CSESP and LOCSS are providing the data Bangladesh needs to more effectively track surface water storage and create innovative solutions for water-food security.

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