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A Remote Sensing Based Framework To Characterize And Visualize Hydroclimatic Stresses And Change In Transboundary River And Aquifer Systems

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Ali S Akanda, Antarpreet Jutla
University of Rhode Island1, West Virginia University2

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 12: Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers,
AbstractApproximately 40 percent of the world's population lives in transboundary river basins and underlying aquifer systems, watersheds that transcend international borders, covering nearly 50 percent of the Earth's land surface and accounting for an estimated 60 percent of global freshwater flow. Water in South Asia, focus of our study, includes some of the largest transboundary rivers and aquifer systems, and combined with high population density along with severe poverty, poses a threat to sustainable development. Lack of integrated water planning among riparian neighbors, and asymmetric hydroclimatic as well as contentious socio-political settings, have pushed this populous region towards basin-wide water scarcity, regional drought and flood hazards, water quality and ecosystem degradation, and public health problems that may lead to conflicts between riparian countries. In order to build resilience against these vulnerabilities, a robust framework is needed to understand trends and patterns in underlying hydroclimatic stresses, to monitor and predict the evolution of droughts and floods across international boundaries, and to identify and address knowledge gaps and potential pitfalls in existing water sharing mechanisms under emerging hydroclimatic and anthropogenic changes. Satellite remote sensing data with their unprecedented spatial and continually evolving temporal resolution is perhaps the ideal solution to understand hydroclimatological processes across transboundary water challenges with recent progresses in the estimation of water cycle and related components (water storage change, precipitation, snow, evapotranspiration, land cover, sea surface height). Here, we present a framework with an extensive suite of satellite-derived datasets to characterize and visualize transboundary hydroclimatic stresses over two major transboundary basins and their shared aquifer systems in South Asia [Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM)]. Our results show alarming downward trends in total water storage in the Punjab and Bengal basins, and increasing hydroclimatic stress in the Indus and the GBM rivers, respectively. The framework can be used to develop regional capacity and improve decision-making at stakeholder organizations to investigate the resilience of existing major transboundary water sharing treaties, and to strengthen institutional resilience for cross border water resources management in South Asia's contentious river basins.
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