Global Water Watch
Europe Digital Solutions Utilities

Google-funded Global Water Watch platform provides real-time insight on freshwater

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

The Google-funded Global Water Watch platform has officially launched. The public information tool provides intelligence about freshwater resources and makes extensive use of AI algorithms to convert earth observation data into relevant water information.

Pressing need for reliable water data

With the pressing threats of climate change, unsustainable usage, and political instability, the need for reliable water data has never been greater.

Developed in collaboration with Dutch research institute Deltares, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Global Water Watch leverages AI algorithms to transform earth observation data into actionable water insights.
The platform's mission is two-fold: to foster water equality across societies and sectors and to manage climate-induced floods and droughts. It maps dams, produces high-resolution spatiotemporal information on the amount of water stored in reservoirs as well as water level and flow information in major river systems in near-real-time.

Machine learning for real-time water information

Former Deltares specialist and Google Cloud geographer, Gennadii Donchyt, said the significance of the platform cannot be understated.

"We us satellite data, machine learning, and cloud computing to provide detailed and near-real-time water information to ensure sustainable water use and the management of extremes, transparency between riparian states, across sectors and groups in society, with greater equality as a result," he explains. 

The platform owes much to the Impact Challenge on Climate, which allocated funding for its development. 

The Impact Challenge: Tech for Social Good is an open call for European non-profits, academic or research institutions, civic entities, and social enterprises in search of technical help and funding for projects focused around sustainability, economic opportunity, or cyber security. 

Director of for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Rowan Barnet, added: "We're excited about how Deltares is leveraging technology to tackle challenges such as climate-change-induced floods and droughts and helping build a greener and more resilient future.”


How the platform works

The Global Water Watch platform employs AI to identify, classify, and monitor water bodies, generating critical information about water dynamics. By merging satellite data with local measurements, the platform arms decision-makers with the insights they need to ensure sustainable water use and informed decision-making.

Deltares focuses on remote sensing and machine learning algorithms, WRI contributes user requirements and use case development, while WWF engages stakeholders and facilitates community dialogues.

How the platform will be used

The platform houses information on thousands of global reservoirs and major river systems across the globe. This information will help national and subnational governments manage water resources more sustainably, efficiently, and equitably.

As this information is in the public domain, it will also hold governments accountable for proper stewardship of water resources and shine a light on water resource conditions in upstream states and nations, who may be reluctant to share data with downstream neighbours. 

The high resolution and near-real-time data within the new tool will help decision-makers respond quickly and effectively to extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, which are occurring with greater frequency and intensity due to climate change.

Deltares says the system will be continually updated and improved upon. Over the next year near-real-time information on reservoir water area time series (m2), reservoir water storage time series (m3) and a feasibility study of water levels/discharge for rivers will be added to the platform.