Artist impression of the Sentinel 3A satellite (credit: ESA)

International scientists, including researchers from the University of Leicester, are using platforms in space to monitor the health of land around the River Ganges in India.

The Ganges, one of the most sacred rivers to Hindus, flows through India and Bangladesh. UK and Indian scientists are using sensors on space-borne and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms to map an area - a new Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) - on the banks of the Ganges Basin.

The CZO encompasses agriculturally-rich land, however high levels of poverty, excessive water extraction and fertiliser-use are directly impacting the livelihoods of farming communities living within the Ganges basin.

The project, funded by the UK Science and Technology Funding Council through the Global Challenges Research Fund, aims to strengthen capacity for UK and India innovation and knowledge exchange with a focus on sustainable land-use, food and water security.

The CZO was set up by Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) as part of an international effort to determine how land and atmosphere interactions within the CZO ecosystem are impacted by human-induced and environmental disturbances. The CZO, supported by the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences, already has a very good network of hydro-meteorological instrumentation, and high-
resolution ground measurements are being collected for more than a year. The CZO will be augmented with new sensors and measurements through the STFC project.

Earth Observation scientists from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester, will use surface measurements from the European Sentinel 3A mission to monitor the human impact on CZO agriculture and soil moisture.

King’s College London will work with IITK to generate the first in-depth mapping of CZO vegetation, crop residue burning and surface properties using high-resolution thermal and hyperspectral cameras flown on UAVs.The scientific observations collected during the campaign will complement modelling activities at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi and IITK through implementation into land and hydrological models to derive downstream flux and emission estimates.

“A strong element underpinning this project will be to integrate scientific analysis with community knowledge and demonstrate how to support the livelihoods of farming communities. Project partners The Flow Partnership and TERI will lead the community and stakeholder engagement to help co-design strategies to optimise agriculture practises in the region.”

This project provides an opportunity to monitor changes in crop conditions and water-use, and for the first time, validate
SLSTR land surface temperature measurements over the Ganges Basin. Working closely with UK and in-country NGOs,
will enable us to demonstrate value-added products derived from satellite and make recommendations on how to protect critical zones across the IGP.”