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ESA turns satellites to watch for droughts

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The European Space Agency (ESA) is putting near real-time information about water levels of lakes and rivers in Africa up on the web, thanks to a collaboration with DeMonfort University (DMU).

The researchers at DMU say the news system could change the way nations respond to droughts, and could even affect conflict over water supply around the world.

The Envisat radar altimeters, originally designed to measure ocean height and ice cap topography, can measure the heights of inland water directly from space. Researchers at the university have developed a new method of analysing this data and turning it into useful information about water levels within three days.

Professor Philippa Berry, head of the Earth and Planetary Remote Sensory lab at DMU in Leicester commented: The system may even be pushed further to deliver the water levels in less than six hours, by using near real time data from the precision orbital positioning system on board the ENVISAT DORIS satellite, in order to better satisfy the actual need of users."

She says that monitoring water resources in Africa is vital, but "until now reliable information has been difficult to access because of the high cost in equipment, manpower and communications."

Although work is starting on mapping the water levels in Africa, over the next year the system will be rolled out to gather and publish water level data for the whole planet. ®

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