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GEO Contributes to UN Resolution on Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters

GEO Blue Planet building a global platform for marine litter monitoring


GEO Blue Planet is collecting information on existing marine litter databases and published datasets to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal SDG 14 Life Below Water Indicator 14.1.1 which aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds.

Marine litter (also referred to as marine debris) is a growing global concern. It’s estimated that over 8 million tonnes of plastic make their way into the ocean each year. Action on marine litter was put forward as a resolution on Marine litter and Microplastics by member states at the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). This resolution extends the mandate of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics to build on its previous work and report on existing actions relating to marine litter, identify resources for supporting countries in addressing marine litter, build partnerships to further address marine litter challenges and analyse response options to solving the global problem of marine litter.

As the custodian agency of SDG 14.1.1, UN Environment is tasked with developing a global methodology to support marine litter monitoring. SDG indicator 14.1.1b, “marine litter” is currently labelled as Tier 3, meaning that internationally established methodologies or standards are not yet available. UN Environment is collecting information on monitoring mechanisms and methodologies in order to develop a framework for gathering and compiling data, as well as identifying approaches for capacity building around monitoring of marine litter.

GEO Blue Planet, IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (IEEE/OES), World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and partners are working to produce a white paper on a concept for a global monitoring platform for marine plastics. This white paper will include an inventory of major databases and datasets for marine debris/litter. IEEE/OES in collaboration with the GEO Blue Planet Initiative and UN Environment is leading a two-year funded initiative aiming to bring together experts and social agents to co-develop the information and modelling system.

René Garello of IEEE OES presents about the global challenge of marine litter at workshop on Technologies for Observing and Monitoring Plastics in the Ocean, held in Brest, France on 26 – 27 November, 2018. (Photo Credit: IEEE).

Group photo from the Expert Consultation on Marine Litter National Source Inventories, held in Nairobi, Kenya on 25-26 March, 2019. (Photo Credit: UN Environment).

OceanObs'19 and the Oceanscape Project

GEO Blue Planet was part of the planning teams for breakout sessions at the major ocean conference OceanObs'19 (September 2019) on SDGs and Ocean Observing, Community Building and Dialogue, and Ocean Best Practices.

Ocean Obs’19 also saw the launch of the Oceanscape portala Blue Planet project and community effort, which will provide information on the many international, regional and national-level organisations working in ocean observing and related fields, and how they are connected to one another. The portal aims to serve a variety of stakeholders, including the scientific community, NGOs, private sector organisations, and government and funding agencies, by clarifying the ‘ocean space’, and helping to identify synergies, collaborative opportunities, or potential overlap/duplication.

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A Marine Debris team member disentangling a Laysan Albatross chick from a small derelict fishing net in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo credit: NOAA CREP

Early Warning System for flooding of

reef-lined islands


The Wave-driven Flood Forecast of Reef-lined Coasts Early Warning System (WaveFORCE) methodology has been successfully tested in a case study at Roi-Namur, an island in the north part of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The WaveFORCE demonstration illustrates the usefulness of an wave-driven flood forecast Early Warning System globally.  

WaveFORCE provides coastal flood forecasts from the existing situation at any given time up to 180 hours into the future at 3-hour intervals, with the forecasts being updated once every 6 hours. This means that every 6 hours a new set of forecasts will be generated, which provide the user with a set of forecasts for each point along the entire coast at 200 metre intervals.

Rather than using expensive wave-rider buoys for input data to the model, NOAA combines satellite data and hydrodynamic models to derive sea surface height and wave height, period and direction globally. Deltares and USGS have developed a simple model that predicts wave-runup given the input of wave and sea surface height outside the reef. This simple model successfully propagates the waves across the reef, through the lagoon and up onto the land, where the extent of the runup can be predicted.

Using this system, waves can be categorized into locally-derived storm waves that are generated by nearby storms or cyclones (i.e. short wavelength wind waves) and those waves that are generated by distant storms (e.g. long wavelength swell waves from storms in the Arctic and Antarctic or cyclones somewhere else in the ocean basin). The sea surface height is a combination of: tides, local sea level (which fluctuates on a daily to weekly time scale), storm surge (from nearby storms or cyclones), short-term weather, and long term climate change.

Early Warning System for flooding of reef-lined islands
GEO Wetlands Community Portal & Toolbox

GEO Wetlands Community Portal & Toolbox

Image by Jason Schuller

GEO Wetlands Community Portal now online


GEO Wetlands strengthens capabilities for mapping, monitoring and stocktaking of wetlands globally to support sustainable management of these fragile ecosystems – from local ponds to global governance.

The new GEO Wetlands Community Portal is the pilot for a global wetland observation system being developed in support of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and other policy frameworks. It builds on developments within the Satellite-based Wetland Observation Service (SWOS) European Union Horizon 2020 project, and will become a core part of the forthcoming GEO Wetlands Knowledge Hub.

The portal is designed to support wetland-related decision making at all levels, and to facilitate SDG monitoring and reporting processes. The portal provides guidelines and user stories to highlight the uses of Earth observations for wetland mapping and monitoring. It contains maps and results from projects, and allows discovery of and access to relevant satellite data.

GEO Wetlands provides toolbox for Earth observations in Uganda

GEO Wetlands provides toolbox for Earth observations in Uganda


GEO Wetlands is working with the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment to co-develop and pilot-design a user-friendly digital system for Earth observation satellite data for taking stock of, and monitoring, wetlands, a vital component of the global water resources ecosystem.

The system enables wetland practitioners and decision makers to generate spatial time series statistical data for inventorying and monitoring national wetland resources. This is a unique attempt to demonstrate the potential of satellite-derived EO data to provide a full national wetland inventory in Uganda and serving as a blueprint to other countries of East Africa.

The project is consistent with the upcoming monitoring requirements in the context of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal SDG indicator 6.6.1 “change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time.” It also recognizes the critical importance of supporting developing countries in strengthening the capacity of national statistical offices and data systems to ensure access to high quality, timely, reliable and disaggregated data.

The project is funded by the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) with support from the World Bank’s Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB). The workflow for generating statistics for display in the portal is included in the GlobWetland-Africa Toolbox, developed as part of the GlobWetland-Africa (GWA) project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Major achievements and deliverables from the project include the creation of a toolbox for wetland inventory mapping, based on the GlobWetland Toolbox, with extended functionality for reporting on SDG 6.6.1; Creation of baseline wetland inventory map for Uganda based on Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data for 2016 and 2017. Validation has been performed incorporating in situ data collected by the Ministry of Water and Environment and RAMCEA and online portal for SDG reporting on SDG indicator 6.6.1 on Wetland extent and training of national stakeholders in Uganda, as well as from the other RAMCEA countries.

Visit the GWA website and download the latest version of the toolbox here.

Forecasting the flow on every river of the world: The GEO Global Water Sustainability Initiative

Forecasting the flow on every river of the world: The GEO Global Water Sustainability Initiative

Image by Kees Streefkerk
Image by Kees Streefkerk

Since the formal creation of the initiative in 2017, the most significant element of the GEO Global Water Sustainability Initiative (GEOGLOWS) has been the application of Earth observations to create a system that forecasts flow on every river of the world while also providing a 35-year simulated historical flow.

GEOGLOWS provides coordination among the diverse freshwater activities within the GEO water community, and helps to organize the international community engaged in the hydrologic sciences, observations, and their application to forecasting, and provides a forum for intergovernmental collaboration and engagement with the academic and private sectors.

The World Bank, with a current hydro-meteorological investment portfolio of around US$500 million, estimates that globally improved weather, climate, and water observation and forecasting could provide increases in global productivity up to US$30 billion per year and reduced asset losses up to US$2 billion per year. Hydrological stress, particularly in the tropics, has a major impact on economies owing to the devastating reconstruction costs as well as increased volatility in food prices.

The GEOGLOWS global streamflow forecast service uses a Hydrologic Modeling as a Service (HMaaS) approach, which centralizes the cyberinfrastructure, human capacity, and other components of hydrologic modeling using the best forecasts and expertise available, along with the latest advances in Information and Communication Technologies. It delivers reliable forecast information as a service, instead of all the underlying data that must be synthesized and computed locally to produce the necessary information. 

The GEOGLOWS global streamflow forecasting service allows local stakeholders to focus on solving water management problems such as flooding, drought, and water/food security issues by providing the water intelligence they need to make decisions; and benefits the global economy by also providing water intelligence to sectors such as the insurance and reinsurance industry, and many others that need to make high-risk investment decisions.

The GEOGLOWS Hydrologic Modeling as a Service (HMaaS) approach allows users to optimise resources including human expertise, cyber-infrastructure and storage and operational support and maintenance to deliver an operational, 24/7 hydrological forecasting, dissemination and data service. The benefit is a world-class service delivered at an overall reduced cost, leveraging world-leading scientific expertise, knowledge and forecasting technology.

GEOGLOWS Global Streamflow Forecasting Pilots

GEOGLOWS Global Streamflow Forecasting Pilots

Image by Justin Wilkens

Led by researchers at Brigham Young University, GEOGLOWS Global Streamflow forecasting pilots have been undertaken in the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Bangladesh and Nepal in 2017-2018, in order to assist with the analysis of past floods, forecasting of future floods and damage, as well as other water resource uses based on local needs.

In the Dominican Republic, GEOGLOWS worked closely with the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INDRHI) to create customized applications for nationally-defined needs in the areas of flood protection, agricultural demand and reservoir management.

In Colombia, the customized GEOGLOWS application enables the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) to visualize water levels and historical data from their 200+ monitoring stations, in order to both assess the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts simulations and more accurately identify areas at risk of flooding.

In Nepal, GEOGLOWS partnered with the national Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) on a pilot application that increased capacity to identify and forecast flood events and their impact. In Bangladesh, the pilot application was developed in collaboration with the national Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and was customized to help decision makers forecast transboundary flows that were used to drive their national flood warning system.

Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) 


Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) provides global prediction of river flooding


The Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) is a GEO Community Activity jointly developed by the European Commission and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). An important aspect of GloFAS is its ability to provide warnings of flood events that occur across country borders along very large rivers. This helps national hydro-meteorological services, humanitarian agencies, and commercial companies to strengthen and improve forecasting capacities, preparedness, and the response to and mitigation of natural hazards.

Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) provides global prediction of river flooding
GloFAS provides flood forecasting In Bangladesh

GloFAS provides flood forecasting In Bangladesh


Bangladesh is located downstream of three large river basins including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. During the annual monsoon season, rainfall in the three basins causes rivers to rise, though some days after the rains occur. If the peak flow is synchronized across more than one basin, a common occurrence, severe flooding can result. Recent work in GloFAS has aimed to improve hydrological forecasts beyond 15 days by using information available from ECMWF’s monthly forecasts.

GloFAS improves the prediction of river flooding with novel approach to estimate flood warning thresholds


GloFAS improves the prediction of river flooding with novel approach to estimate flood warning thresholds


A recently published research paper, “Range-dependent thresholds for global flood early warning,” presents recent scientific advances focused on improving and extending the forecast skills of the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS).

GloFAS is designed to forecast large-scale river flooding worldwide by detecting river reaches where predicted streamflow has significant probability to exceed model-consistent warning thresholds in a 30-day forecasting horizon. Therefore, detection of future flood conditions depends not only on accurate streamflow forecasts, but also on the estimation of suitable flood warning thresholds.  

This research shows the development of a new method to estimate thresholds for medium-range flood forecasting. It provides evidence that flood thresholds for medium-range forecasting can take on significantly different values from thresholds derived from a hydrological reanalysis based on ERA5, a state of the art meteorological dataset which is used to initialize the daily forecasts. Findings show that the use of constant thresholds for 30-day flood forecasting, as in the current operational GloFAS setup, is statistically correct only in 30% to 40% of the river network.

The project proposed a new framework for the early detection of floods, based on range-dependent flood thresholds, which are able to compensate for forecast drifts in the extreme values, particularly important over long forecast ranges. This represents a key step in the evolution of GloFAS and of similar systems, which may ultimately lead to the extension from the current 30-day range to a 6-week forecasting range. Upcoming work, ahead of the operational implementation, will involve extensive testing and skill evaluation of the operational ensemble forecasts, to assess the limits of predictability of the system and compare the system skills to the current operational version.

At the time of the August 2017 floods, the new system was already running on a test platform, thus providing an opportunity to evaluate in near real-time the improvements brought by the new system. Initial tests before 28 July showed that a relatively large flood peak would occur between 13 and 22 August.

The Bangladesh Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre was using GloFAS information on a daily basis and provided information on the potential flood event to the Bangladesh Water Development Board, whose field offices took charge of flood preparations. While the actual flood peaked around 16 August 2019?, the extended-range system showed a marked improvement from the previous version, which forecasted a much smaller flood which peaked too early. These results appear promising, although further tests are needed before the new version is operationally implemented in GloFAS, especially as some river systems are more predictable than others.

Global Flood Hazard book is the Winner of the PROSE Awards 2019 in Earth Science

Image by NASA

The book Global Flood Hazard: Applications in Modeling, Mapping, and Forecasting has won the PROSE Awards 2019 in Earth Science for making a significant contribution to the field. Presented annually since 1976, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) Awards for Professional & Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) Awards recognize “the very best in professional and scholarly publishing by bringing attention to distinguished books, journals, and electronic content.”

The book describes the latest tools and technologies for global flood hazard modelling, mapping, and forecasting needed for flood risk reduction and documents both present and future flood risks using operational flood models, remote sensing technologies, and climate change projections.

The chapter “Global Flood Forecasting for Averting Disasters Worldwide” reviews the recent advances in global-scale flood forecasting systems including the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) and it discusses the ongoing research for improving the quality and usability of hydrological forecasts for humanitarian preparedness and early action. The chapter illustrates how a strong partnership between scientists, forecasters, disaster response organizations, national authorities and local communities are needed in order to reduce the impacts of floods.

Global Flood Hazard book is the Winner of the PROSE Awards 2019 in Earth Science
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