There is an urgent need for improved access to water quality information to better understand the impacts of climate — and human — induced change on water security. In order to effectively monitor water quality, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has partnered with satellite bathymetry data provider EOMAP to build an interactive portal that showcases water quality on a global scale.

The IIWQ World Water Quality Portal was developed to support UNESCO-IHP’s International Initiative on Water Quality (IIWQ) and uses high-resolution global coverage and satellite measurements to monitor the quality of streams, lakes, rivers and coastal waters.

The portal fills an important gap, providing water quality information that will facilitate informed, science-driven decision-making by water management, and ultimately help them to reach UN targets linked to water quality.

Data is provided on five key indicators of water quality within the portal, including: turbidity and sedimentation distribution, chlorophyll-a, Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), organic absorption and surface temperature. Not only does this data aid water managers in their understanding of global water quality and its impact, but also provides information on the impact of other sectors and land uses, such as fertiliser use in agriculture.

The flexible tool includes the ability to select various time periods within the last three decades, with historic measurements provided at 30m spatial resolution. This can be continued with various spatial and temporal resolutions for each country.

According to the Managing Director of EOMAP Australia, Dr Magnus Wettle, the tool is especially effective for large, remote or developing regions. By combining quantitative satellite-based monitoring with user-friendly online visualisation, the tool can provide ongoing large-scale monitoring.

One possible application for the portal is the monitoring of catchment sediment loads, which negatively impact the health of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. Users of the tool can deploy customised portals for their region, monitoring synoptic water quality in a specific area on an ongoing basis, making it particularly valuable for targeted monitoring.

The UN is calling the period between 2018 and 2028 the ‘Water Action Decade’, in which water-related challenges, including limited access to safe water and sanitation, increasing pressure on water resources and ecosystems, as well as the risks posed by natural disasters, are addressed. The portal will play a unique and integral role in responding to these challenges and managing their potentially devastating global effects.

The tool is now fully operational for use by both water managers and the public, and can be accessed at worldwaterquality.org.

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