Tech challenges hinder mountain water data gathering
7 Nov 2022
Global failure to make better use of the latest monitoring technologies for high altitude water data is limiting scientists’ ability to understand better the effects of climate change upon supply and demand, says new research.
A multinational study including participants from three UK institutions, warned that more information was needed about the water security in mountain areas besides glacier melt alone.
Published in Nature Sustainability the researchLooking beyond glaciers to understand mountain water security was led by Imperial College London, University of Birmingham, University of Zurich, the British Geological Survey and Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, working with local partners.
Researchers warned of substantial data gaps about how communities used water from glaciers and mountain snow in combination with other water sources. The picture was complicated by complex mountain landscapes, localised weather systems and the low density of data station records, they explained.
And, in low income nations, the lack of uptake for new monitoring capabilities was especially stark, they warned, making it difficult to create models that could be scaled up accurately across watersheds.
Lead author Dr Fabian Drenkhan, who was based at Imperial during the research before transferring to Peru’s Pontifical Catholic University, warned the expected development of a more variable water supply and growing water demand constituted a threat to water security in mountain regions.
Added Drenkhan: “Our current incomplete picture is hampering the design and implementation of effective climate change adaptation. A holistic perspective based on improved data and process understanding is urgently needed to guide robust, locally tailored adaptation approaches in view of increasingly adverse impacts from climate change and other human interferences.”
Senior author Professor Wouter Buytaert of Imperial, responsible for the original research concept warned that thorough understanding of the local water security context remained essential to access the knowledge to support local water management decisions and adaptation strategies.
UNESCO Chair in Water Sciences at the University of Birmingham Professor David Hannah said complex interconnections between the solid precipitation that forms the cryosphere and other water sources, as well as with humans, must be better understood:
“We need to identify the gaps in our understanding and rethink strategies for water security in the context of climate change adaptation and shifting human needs.”
The research team have called for a fundamental rethink of the methods and technologies used to assess current water availability and model future scenarios.