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Using Satellites to Enhance Source Water Quality Monitoring

With funding from the National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA), Hazen developed a Remote Sensing-Water Quality Decision Support System (DSS) that gives water utilities ready access to NASA’s satellite remote sensing data, filtered for the watershed(s) of interest, and presented in a way that is easy for utility staff to analyze and summarize for use by decision-makers.

Satellite remote sensing data offers a detailed watershed snapshot at high temporal resolution that can support an improved understanding of sources of contamination. Depicted here is landsat-based predicted chlorophyll-a concentrations in Falls Lake, NC (Courtesy Dr. Amita Mehta, NASA).

While it is well-established that terrestrial conditions within the watershed influence surface water quality, most water utilities do not currently have the capability to monitor watershed sources of contamination with great temporal or spatial detail. In most cases, a water utility’s knowledge of source water quality is limited to monthly or even quarterly measurements at a few discrete locations, typically within the water body itself.

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While useful, these data are not sufficient to allow for full characterization of seasonal trends or annual variations in concentrations or character of critical water quality constituents. Satellite data, on the other hand, can provide frequent observations across an entire watershed of the subtle changes to environmental conditions that drive water quality.

Once accessible, remote sensing data could prove extremely valuable as a low-cost way to increase utilities’ spatial and temporal understanding of source water quality and the impacts of related watershed changes.

Preliminary efforts have found that remote sensing data can potentially be used to predict disinfection byproduct formation potential and phosphorus concentrations in some waterbodies.
The tool will give water utilities user-friendly access to NASA’s satellite remote sensing data, filtered for the watershed of interest, and presented for utility staff to analyze and summarize for use by decision-makers.

Project Outcomes and Benefits

  • Developing DSS that gives water utilities ready access to NASA’s satellite remote sensing, filtering, and presenting of data in a way that is easy for utility staff to analyze and summarize for use by decision-makers.
  • Remote sensing data can be used as a low-cost way to increase utilities’ spatial and temporal understanding of source water quality and the impacts of related watershed changes.