Satellite technology for monitoring water resources


On Friday 11 November at COP22 in Marrakech, seven French institutions - AFD, CNES, OIEau, CNR, IRD, Irstea and BRLI - signed a joint agreement under the patronage and in the presence of Ségolène Royal, minister for the environment, energy and the sea, and responsible for international climate relations. These institutions came together to work on new approaches to water resource monitoring using spatial data. The agreement responds to the requirements of stakeholders in the Global South by calling on world-recognised French expertise and is part of efforts to improve knowledge on the effects of climate change.

Countries that share the same river basin need to share knowledge and data on rivers for better use of shared resources, especially against a background of climate change. Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed a sharp decline in hydrometric databases across the world and especially in Africa.

Data acquisition

The use of spatial data and space altimetry could reverse this trend, as demonstrated by the initial results with more than 500 virtual hydrological stations built as part of this working group. With global coverage for the first time, hydrometric data of the main rivers, lakes and oceans will be acquired between now and 2020, as part of the SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) satellite programme. This is a Franco-American CNES-NASA project (with the collaboration of the Canadian and UK space agencies) funded, on the French side, by the PIA future investment programme.


The group also draws on work on ‘pilot’ activities such as those in the Congo river basin, implemented by the international Congo-Oubangui-Sangha basin commission (CICOS) with funding from AFD, the ministry for the environment, energy and the sea, and the FFEM (French Global Environment Facility).

The Congo river is the focus of global concerns surrounding climate change and biodiversity. There are some extraordinary challenges: 204 million hectares of tropical rain forest (carbon sink), 60% of African biodiversity, 25,000 km of waterways, 100 GW of hydropower potential. There is currently very little data on its present flow rate and evolution. Anticipating the effects of climate change entails better knowledge of current and future systems, and the tools for such monitoring are key.

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