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Policy, market and technology trends in EO-assisted water resource management

5 min.

A lot of the recent technological and market developments in the realm of Earth Observation (EO)-assisted water resource management evolve in parallel with European policies where EO can have an impact. These are legislations such as the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), and the Floods Directive. The close relation between policy, market and technology can be seen within each of the e-shape pilots involved in Water resources management.

  • Pilot 5.1 (Improved historical water availability and quality information – coordinated by SMHI) integrates EO data into numerical models in order to assess water quality and availability parameters needed to be reported under the WFD. While this is done on a country scale within the project, the method is potentially applicable on European and on global scale.
  • Pilot 5.2 (Satellite Earth Observation-derived water bodies and floodwater record over Europe – coordinated by LIST) focuses on flood management and potential contributions to the Floods Directive. The pilot is being developed in close relation with important stakeholders such as the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) under the Copernicus Emergency Management Service and the Global Flood Partnership (a JRC initiative aiming at establishing flood services). Pilot 5.2 contributes to the venture by enriching the EO-assisted services.

For marine environments, three pilots show how EO can help in implementing the MSFD and for monitoring the related (qualitative and quantitative) indicators:

  • Pilot 5.3 (Diver Information on Visibility in Europe – coordinated by PML) uses EO data to determine the water transparency and colour. In the specific instance, it is aimed at serving the needs of approximately 3.2 million active scuba divers in Europe, but its purpose can be extended further, as transparency is one of the main parameters to be considered when talking about water quality in marine areas.
  • Pilot 5.4 (Sargassum detection for seasonal planning – coordinated by CLS) uses EO-data and numerical modelling in order to create services for sargassum monitoring and long-term forecasting. This algae species can have negative consequences for water quality. Particularly in the case of the Caribbean, the presence of sargassum has shown relevant negative impacts on tourism and fishing, raising the need of efficient planning of cleaning and gathering efforts. The ability to assess and foresee the presence of algae, sargassum and others, is essential for water quality and suitable to be integrated into a directive-related reporting mechanism.
  • Pilot 5.5 (Monitoring fishing activity – coordinated by IPMA and DEIMOS) uses satellite data (EO, as well as AIS communication data) to monitor fishing activities and possibly for reporting under the MSFD in relation with the anthropogenic pressure indicator. The pilot is focused on tuna and sword fish within the Portuguese exclusive economic zone, but once established can be extended to other species.

Most of the demand on the market of EO-based water resource management applications comes from the public sector – and specifically from (water monitoring and management) public bodies. Nonetheless, the private sector is increasingly getting more involved in dialogues for the use of similar services.

Many public institutions react on the need to report based on directives and legislations and an increase of demand can already be seen. At the same time, it is a challenge that EO-based methodologies are not expressively referred to as reference methods under different directives. Experience shows that stakeholders are open to testing the EO potential but going into operational cooperation can be more difficult (e.g. due to issues in dedicating public budget for non-reference methods). Setting it as a reference method would increase not only awareness but also confidence in using EO products in water monitoring and management. This is primarily the case for the WFD which has a generally wider background than other directives and hence can set reference methods. The MSFD, on the other hand, is less specific in terms of indicators promoted and reference methods are rarely identified; this creates more difficulties for stakeholders to implement in the best possible way. Some research has also highlighted a relation between EO and MSFD indicators – however this should be explored further given that EO is an appropriate mean for monitoring some, but not all, specific parameters (e.g. impossibility to assess marine biodiversity through EO).

As for the growing interest from the private sector, it mostly comes from aquaculture, fisheries and fishing companies, interested to monitor direct risks such as harmful algae blooms (HAB) and sea surface temperature (SST) variations. EO has as well potential for optimising fishing areas selection: this method is not straightforward and is species-specific, but there is increasing engagement on behalf of stakeholders. Another sector is tourism, where companies look for providing innovative solutions to other private companies. Existing solutions, for instance, provide tourism indicators based on marine water quality and inland water quality and availability, as well as others related to sustainable tourism.

The biggest recent push for advancement of the EO-assisted water resource management industry has been the launch of Sentinel-3 and its multispectral capabilities, as more bands are optimised for water monitoring. It also resulted in the establishment of long time series both in space and time for water-related parameters based on data from the Ocean Colour Climate Change Initiative (OC-CCI)  and even from the  Copernicus marine environment monitoring service and the Copernicus land monitoring service. Overall, reliable data from different providers are largely available and ready to be used for development/improvement of services. As the Sentinel-3 time series will evolve in terms of quality and spatiotemporal resolution (i.e. from 1-4 km resolution for some parameters and even coarser for others will go into hundreds of meters), the conditions are expected to become even more beneficial for the development of EO-based water quantity and quality services.

e-shape partners involved in the aforementioned pilots will be actively monitoring these developments in order to ensure the sustainability of the produced solutions and maximise the value they bring to users. The Market Trends Observatory will be supporting these efforts by taking deep-dives in relevant topics.


This article is based on contributions from: Nuno Grosso (DEIMOS), Nuno Catarino (DEIMOS), Ilias Pechlivanidis (SMHI).