Social Impact

Providing knowledge, data, and analytical tools to help underdeveloped areas to solve problems vital to their communities

UNESCO International Hydrological Programme

In collaboration with the UN IHP (International Hydrological Programme), Professor Wood’s team has developed a suite of drought and flood monitoring and forecast systems for Africa, Latin America and the United States. The system merges climate predictions, hydrological models and remote sensing data to provide timely and useful information on hydrologic extremes in developing regions where institutional capacity is generally lacking and access to information and technology prevents the development of systems locally. Key elements of the system are the provision of near real-time evaluations of the terrestrial water cycle and an assessment of drought conditions.

Current approaches to drought monitoring in developing regions have generally been limited, in part because of unreliable monitoring networks and limited national capacity. Operational seasonal climate forecasts are also deficient and often reliant on statistical regressions, which are unable to provide detailed information relevant for drought assessment.

The wealth of data from satellites, real-time telemetry, and recent advancements in large scale hydrological modeling and seasonal climate model predictions have enabled the development of state-of-the-art monitoring and prediction systems that can help address many of the problems inherent to developing regions. Satellite remote sensing in particular is capable of overcoming differences in data availability across political boundaries that have historically hindered monitoring of regional phenomena such as drought. Pictured above is an example of a system in Africa.

Providing Local Training Workshops in Africa

A key component of this work has been the transition and testing of the technology for operational usage by collaborators in Africa and Latin America. In 2012 and 2013, workshops were held in two regional centers in sub-Saharan Africa, the AGRHYMET (Centre Regional de Formation et d’Application en Agrométéorologie et Hydrologie Opérationnelle) center in Niamey, Niger and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC) in Nairobi, Kenya, where the system was installed on center servers.

Local scientists were trained in the operational running of the system and interpretation of the data output. Feedback was also solicited from scientists and managers from national hydrological, meteorological and agricultural agencies and extension services, who are charged with managing local water resources systems and providing information to farmers. Overall, the users found that this system was able to provide them with much easier and rapid access to data that could inform their decision making processes. Follow-on workshops have been held in Niamey, Niger and Harare, Zimbabwe.

Following the success of these installations and training workshops, a similar system was developed for the Latin American and Caribbean region. In collaboration with the UNESCO Office in Santiago, Chile the Latin American and Caribbean Flood and Drought Monitor was developed and implemented in 2014. Three training workshops for this system have been held in Santiago, Chile and Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. These trainings have enabled the team to further improve the flood products as well as to provide information on crop water requirements for agricultural use.

Feedback from the workshops and ongoing discussion with local collaborators has identified several opportunities for continued development and utilization of the system. Confidence in the predictions is necessary to ensure uptake by users, and a validation and evaluation strategy has been developed to determine the accuracy of the system for tracking extreme events at local scales.

Secondly, the continued and sustained use such systems depends on the mechanisms for sustained knowledge exchange and education, and eventual transfer of ownership of such systems into local infrastructure. Princeton Climate Analytics is continuing the work of this Princeton University team and many of upcoming products will be disseminated to traditionally underdeveloped regions around the globe.