A recent study could help scientists predict impending floods months before they occur.
The study states that a pair of NASA satellites, known collectively as GRACE, have detected variations in gravitational pull from saturated river basins that appear to be accurate indicators of flooding.
The report, which was published in Nature Geoscience on July 6th, was conducted by hydrologist J.T. Reager and colleagues from the University of California. The team analyzed data which showed that, as river basins absorb water, GRACE recorded a stronger gravitational pull in the region, suggesting that waterlogged ground is more liable to flooding when assaulted by heavy rain or melting ice.
"These data can show us when river basins have been filling with water over several months," said Jay Famiglietti, the senior author of the new study. "We’re not talking about actual flooding but about the saturation level of the ground and its predisposition to flooding. When it finally rains and the basin is full, there is nowhere else for the water to go."
The scientists believe that this type of data could provide an early-warning system for floods, possibly months in advance, that could ultimately help to prevent damage and loss of life.
"GRACE data contain important hydrologic information that is not currently being utilized to estimate regional flood potential," said J.T. Reager, the lead author of the new study, in a news release. "This could significantly increase flood prediction lead times within large river basins."
The researchers assessed data collated between May-July 2011 prior to the immense floods that arose from the Missouri river, and discovered that gravitational pull in that area increased in the period leading up to the floods. This information could have given advance warning of the floods up to five months before they occurred, as opposed to measurements of soil moisture readings which can offer only two months notice at best.
Inland flooding is a hugely dangerous and costly issue, typically causing around 133 deaths and $4 billion damage annually in the United States alone. Having such an extended period of advance warning could have a an enormous benefit, helping to save lives and money across the globe, though scientists pointed out that flash flooding caused by hurricanes and typhoons would still remain an unpredictable phenomenon.
This is fascinating news, that our advanced technology is enabling us to unlock the secrets of our amazing earth. We have lived for millennia in a world surrounded by answers, yet we have been blindly unaware of the questions until it is too late. How many more signals do we currently ignore?
We appear to have lost the ability to understand the messages given to us by the planet we inhabit, itself a living organism with needs, wants and desires. Will we remain ignorant of these needs until our earth eventually expires from neglect, leaving us uttering a tardy panegyric to its once joyful splendour with our last breath of clean air?We need to look, listen, and intuit these messages now, then perhaps we will be better able to exist in harmony with our environment and understand its communications with us.
Another very accurate predictor of flooding worldwide is our very own Whitley Strieber, whose "Climate Watch" forecasts have proved to be uncannily precise – check out the latest one here.