The supply and quality of water sources in many countries across the globe are threatened by mismanagement and pollution, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the health of our water supply is heavily regulated by forests. Moreover, climate change is altering forests’ ability to continue playing this role sustainably. The relationship between forests and water is a critical issue which will benefit from new big data solutions to help protect these resources and in turn increase our resilience to climate change.
Forests are a rich source of Earth’s biodiversity, provide critical ecosystem services, and are unfortunately disappearing at an alarming rate due to increased global resource demand as well as climate impacts. Forests and trees stand at the intersection of many decisive challenges: protecting infrastructure; regulating water and climate; providing timber, paper and energy; and housing critical biodiversity*. Advances in technology have significantly improved our ability to observe and monitor forests. Data is crucial not only in monitoring, but also in providing actionable information to support the areas of the world most affected by land degradation. The ever-increasing pool of data sets and recent improvements in satellite imagery offer new opportunities to combat deforestation and drive sustainable development. Globally, about 2 billion hectares of degraded forest land could be restored to functional, productive ecosystems that help fight climate change.
*World Bank Group – Forest Action Plan FY16-20
Example areas of need:
- Creating awareness, forecasting, or understanding of potential implications of climate induced changes on forest degradation at the regional level
- Leveraging existing data like Landsat time series, forest carbon stocks, and/or remote sensing to characterize and combat forest degradation
More than one in six people worldwide—663 million people—have no access to safe freshwater and climate change is only expected to make a challenging situation worse. Over 1.4 billion people currently live in river basins where the use of water exceeds minimum recharge levels, leading to the desiccation of rivers and the depletion of groundwater. Drought, arguably the biggest single threat from climate change, is a global threat. By 2025, it is estimated that two out of three people will live in a water-stressed area. For many countries, water scarcity is a fundamental challenge to economic and social development. Despite the fact that water basins are such a critical resource, not enough is known about them. From aquifers to river drainage systems, the gap in knowledge of hydrologic systems and their impacts on local ecosystems is large and universal. Technological advances are increasing knowledge and management of water usage in the urban and agricultural environments, yet there is a significant opportunity to apply data and technology to better understand water basins and the effects of climate change and to develop information tools for planning and management.
Example areas of need:
- Providing forecasting and awareness of potential seasonal impacts of droughts and floods
- Watershed modeling tools that include temporal functionality and erosion inputs