COPUOS 2021 – U.S. on Space and Water

The Bahamas as seen from STS-52 in November 1992. (NASA)

Agenda Item 10: Space and Water

As prepared for delivery by Alternate Representative Kevin Conole, September 1, 2021
64th Session of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The U.S. Delegation is pleased to provide a statement on U.S. efforts related to the use of space-derived data to improve water management.

As we have consistently noted in UN fora, achieving universal access to safe drinking water is one of the greatest development challenges confronting the world today. Our home planet has been described as a blue marble, characterized by its strong cycling and replenishing of water. However, increasing population pressure and water usage, coupled with climate variability and change, elevates water management as one of the most critical environmental problems of the 21st century.

The United States is working to improve the availability of quality information to address these water challenges. NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Geological Survey leverage the investment of space-based remote sensing for national and global applications. The U.S. Earth science data policy promotes the full and open sharing of all data with the research and applications communities, private industry, academia, and the general public. In particular, the NASA Water Resources team in the Applied Sciences Program partners with Federal agencies, academia, private firms, and international organizations to apply satellite data to address concerns related to water availability, water forecasting, and water quality.

Mr. Chairman, here are some examples of NASA satellite-based systems using Earth observations for societal benefit:

The Global Precipitation Measurement mission, launched with Japan in 2014, provides improved global precipitation maps for improved weather forecasting, climate research, and monitoring of extreme events, such as hurricanes.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, launched in 2015, produces global soil moisture maps with critical information for improved weather forecasting and crop monitoring.

The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a partnership with Germany, provides data documenting ground water depletions throughout the world. Integrated with its predecessor mission, GRACE-FO data shows a steady depletion of ground water from irrigated agriculture, exacerbating droughts in several regions of the world.

In 2018, NASA launched the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment (ECOSTRESS) instrument on board the International Space Station. A key ECOSTRESS measurement, derived from temperatures of plants, is evapotranspiration, which is a climate and ecosystem variable that is especially important to hydrology research and applications.

The Landsat series of satellites continues to provide critical global information on water availability, water consumption, and water quality. As an example, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey helped develop a tool called OpenET that will leverage this information to produce information that irrigation managers can use to support irrigation and groundwater management.

In 2021, NASA announced that it will design a new set of Earth-focused missions, with international partnerships, that will provide information about the global water-cycle such as precipitation, soil moisture, and groundwater.

NASA and USAID continue to partner with leading technical organizations around the world to strengthen the capacity of partners in over 50 developing countries, using satellite data to improve development outcomes, resilience, and self-reliance. SERVIR has active hubs in eastern and southern Africa, West Africa, the Hindu-Kush Himalaya, lower Mekong, and the Amazonia regions. During 2020, this included integrating SERVIR’s near real-time flood monitoring system and drought monitoring tool into the World Food Programme’s climate hazard monitoring system.

NOAA and NASA elevate global water sustainability through the initiation of a GLObal Water Sustainability Initiative in the Group on Earth Observations. GEOGLOWS facilitates the use of Earth observation assets to mitigate water shortages, excesses and degraded quality arising from population growth, climate change and industrial development.

Mr. Chairman, these are a few examples of how the United States and our partners are working to build knowledge and develop capabilities around the world to effectively integrate Earth observations into water decision-making processes. The ongoing challenge for Member States, and a focus of the United States is to ensure that the wealth of valuable space-based water data are freely and readily available and converted into practical information for decision-makers.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.