NASA expands groundwater maps globally to help reveal remote droughts

NASA has teamed up with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's National Drought Mitigation Center to distribute maps showing the current and projected state of groundwater and soil moisture around the world. This marks an important expansion of the maps from covering just the US to the entire world, shedding light on remote and rural regions where droughts and other water issues may not be as readily discovered.

The global maps are made possible by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow On (GRACE-FO) satellites from NASA and the German Research Center for Geoscience. The data from these satellites, which took over for the original GRACE satellite mission that ended in 2017, is combined with other data and computer models to show simulations of energy and water cycles around the world.

The results of this are three layers of ground moisture data: surface soil moisture, root zone moisture, and shallow groundwater. With these, experts can monitor groundwater conditions around the world, identify areas that are likely to be hit hard by droughts, and more. This is particularly important for countries that do not possess any of their own infrastructure for monitoring groundwater.

Droughts have become an increasing issue as the climate changes and the planet warms up. By viewing current water conditions and predicting how it will play out, governments around the world can take steps to help offset some of the ramifications these changes may have, as well as better enabling them to deal with the problems at hand.

Anyone can access and download the groundwater maps from this project using the NASA Grace website hosted by UNL. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center hydrologist and project lead Matt Rodell explained, "The groundwater maps are like a slowed down, smoothed version of what you see at the surface. They represent the accumulation of months or years of weather events."