NASA develops easy way to predict risk of flooding

A team of researchers from NASA has developed a new way to predict the risk of flooding by calculating the amount of water in various river basins.

Using NASA’s twin GRACE satellites, the scientists studied images of different river basins in the months before the 2014 spring’s flooding season. They found that dangerous flooding occurred when the ground is most saturated from past rains. The study was published July 7 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“Just like a bucket can only hold so much water, the same concept applies to river basins,” lead study author, J.T. Reager, an earth scientist at the University of California at Irvine, told “This gives the background on what’s on the ground before the rain even gets there.”

Reager and his colleagues looked at spots where major floods had occurred, then referred to satellite imagery of the river basins taken during the months prior to the flood, according to a UPI report. They developed a computer model that was able to predict future floods based on the quantity of water that had inundated the river basin— predictions that could be made as much as five months ahead of time.

NASA’s twin GRACE satellites, originally designed to measure melting ice sheets, are able to detect slight gravitational tugs, which inform researchers about buildups of snow or water.

The ability to predict flooding before the spring rainy season could give at-risk communities the opportunity to be proactive and take steps needed to protect life and property. Reager hopes the methods discussed in the new study will be useful to weather forecasters in the future.

“It would be amazing if this could have a positive effect and potentially save lives,” he said.

So far, the new method has only been successful when applied to floods that have already occurred. Also, it cannot predict flash floods.

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