Tracking Water Storage in Lakes: Citizens and Satellites

Bladen Lakes LOCSS

Tamlin Pavelsky, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Lakes are the primary source of irrigation and drinking water in many parts of the world. They are used to provide food and generate electricity. They can also lessen the impact of flooding due to natural disasters, and they provide habitats for fish, plants and other wildlife.

Lake Observations by Citizen Scientists and Satellites (LOCSS) is an effort to better understand how the water volume in lakes is changing. LOCSS is working with a network of citizen scientists who report lake height by reading simple lake gauges. LOCSS also uses satellite images to measure the surface area of the lake. By using the measured lake height and lake surface area, researchers can understand and calculate the volume of water in a given lake, understand how the lake volume is changing over time, and predict how those changes in lake volume may impact humans and wildlife. However, this data will need to be validated with ground measurements. LOCSS creates a framework to provide such measurements.

There are tens of millions of lakes in the world, but only a fraction are monitored. This project uses the power of citizen science to gather large amounts of lake volume data that a single research team would be unable to obtain. These lake volume measurements will help NASA prepare for the upcoming Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite mission. SWOT will be able to measure lake height and surface area simultaneously allowing for global measurements of lake water storage. However, this data will need to be validated with ground measurements.

During the prototype phase, the project focused on lakes in North Carolina. In the implementation phase, LOCSS will expand the project to new lakes including those in Washington, Wisconsin, Bangladesh. For information on how you can volunteer visit LOCSS.

This CSESP project is a collaboration between the Department of Geological Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment, the University of Washington Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the Tennessee Technological University Department of Computer Science. Expert advice has been provided by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the Wisconsin Citizen Lake Monitoring Network.

Read more about NASA's Citizen Science for Earth Systems Program (CSESP).

Last Updated: Feb 21, 2019 at 3:59 PM EST