Forecasting drought impacts months ahead using satellite data

Skilful seasonal water and crop forecasts can do much to help cope with drought and water-related crises. Rapid advances in computing and in satellite remote sensing of precipitation, soil moisture, landscape water storage and vegetation biomass have created the opportunity to produce such forecasts over large areas with fine detail.
With support from the Australian Research Council and in collaboration with Princeton University, Monash University and Deltares, we have been developing technologies to measure and forecast river flows, soil moisture, irrigation water use and vegetation condition with local relevance and global coverage.
For example, we have developed methods to assimilate water storage observations from the GRACE satellite mission and soil moisture observations from passive microwave satellite instruments to achieve remarkable improvements in the estimation of soil moisture at different depths. This has allowed us to predict vegetation response to developing droughts several months in advance. In other examples, we have developed a technology to accurately measure irrigation water use at fine scale with global coverage, and we developed methods to use river water extent remote sensing to monitor river flows.