NASA Satellite Monitors Watershed Pollution from Space


Photo by ezioman via Flickr CC

NASA is a constant help in monitoring water supplies and conditions, from groundwater supplies in California to ocean dead zones worldwide. But every day the technology gets more helpful, and with USEPA estimating that over 20,000 water bodies within the United States do not meet water quality standards, it's a good thing that the latest boost from NASA goes to watersheds. NASA satellites are improving pollution monitoring for the Chesapeake Bay, an ecosystem in need of all the help it can get, and other watersheds around the nation.According to a report from the American Society of Agronomy, part of the Clean Water Act of 1972 requires monitoring how much pollution can be carried by a body of water before it is deemed polluted. The USEPA Created Better Assessment Science Integrating Nonpoint Sources, or BASINS, as a tool to help accomplish this. By using both satellite and ground-based observations from NASA and imputing the data in BASINS, states have watershed pollution monitoring models. The new access to NASA satellite data replaces data that used to come from weather stations, which could miss important factors like (of all things) precipitation data. The new, more precise precipitation data has "dramatically improved water quality model performance over the default weather stations," states ASA.

Seven watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay drainage basin were selected to test out the new data. This area has had an especially hard time with pollution levels, with the EPA actually sued in an effort to get pollution levels down. Recently Philippe Cousteau's Azure World and the University of Virginia created a game that allows users to create scenarios from new government policies to housing developments and the game models what would happen to the watershed over 20 years' time. It can be used to explore and test policy choices and research in complex systems modeling. That, combined with the new, more accurate information pooled by NASA can go a long way in helping the bay recover, and possibly spread valuable lessons to other imperiled watersheds.

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Tags: Blue August | Conservation | Ecology | Oceans | Water Crisis

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