GLOWASIS – The Global Water Scarcity Information Service

By Markus Enenkel
Project Assistant – Drought Monitoring and Forecasting
Institute of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Vienna University of Technology

Rogier Westerhoff
GLOWASIS Project Coordinator
Deltares, the Netherlands

A screenshot of the GLOWASIS website at

A screenshot of the GLOWASIS website at

Earth recently welcomed its seventh billion citizen, and while our species is multiplying exponentially, the need to access and reuse water resources is enhanced. Droughts are one major reason the precious resource is lacking, but simply blaming climate change does not account for the complexity of the issue. Sometimes, changes in human behavior are responsible for deficiencies in supply. As a result, water resources are subject to severe stress in large regions of the world. Factors such as poor management and unmeasured over-abstraction or irrigation dependencies amplify the vulnerability of already weakened communities. But a new project, the Global Water Scarcity and Information Service, or GLOWASIS, is providing decision-support to avoid just that.

GLOWASIS, a Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) initiative of the European Commission, aims for insight into global water supply and demand by linking established and innovative technologies. The project is conducted as a pre-validation of a new Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Service. These services will be maintained by the European Commission and focus on the provision of information for decision-making with regard to climate change and natural or man-made disasters. GLOWASIS started in January 2011 with a contract period of 24 months, and project partners involve research centers in Austria, Belgium, Italy, South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and the U.K.

In the current project phase, different sources of information are collected, harmonized, checked for gaps or errors and displayed in an open access portal. One major innovation is the use of satellite data on precipitation, soil water and snow cover in combination with in situ and statistical data in the European Drought Observatory (EDO), and a global hydrological forecasting model called PCR-GLOB. On one hand, in situ data are precise and valuable for validation of data gathered from remote sensing. On the other hand, these two kinds of data sets represent completely different scales. In situ gauges offer information about local conditions, whereas satellites are capable of covering the whole globe in several hours, and statistical data can then be used to fill the gaps.

In a user requirement study, potential beneficiaries of the GLOWASIS service said the scarcity and poor quality of data concerning water demand were major limiting factors to enabling effective water management. The role of a global hydrological forecasting model that can integrate socioeconomic data is therefore of particular importance. Although data from satellites or in situ gauges can already be used to reveal tendencies of water stress, it is necessary to account for water demand by considering socioeconomic developments. Consequently, statistical data on water demand (for instance, such as that from AQUASTAT or, the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Water), are regarded as crucial model inputs.

Over the past several years, international media were flooded with reports on droughts in Argentina, Russia and the Horn of Africa. Even Europe was anything but drought-immune. The difference to similar events in developing or threshold countries, however, is the more-immediate human impact, rather than a largely economic impact. The European Water Framework Directive urges member states to monitor water quality and quantity with respect to availability and extraction. GLOWASIS will offer free, high-quality information in a one-stop-shop-portal. The portal will be supported by a firm infrastructure and consist of two parts, one visualising global hotspots, predictions on water demand and approaching droughts, with the other enabling access to data sets and downloads. Considering the varying timeframes of investments and policy-making, the portal will offer outcomes from seasonal drought forecasting to time series of data for climate change monitoring. The question of how to increase user friendliness of the portal with respect to a variety of user groups is currently being investigated.

Since the reinvention of the wheel is not only time-consuming but also costly, GLOWASIS benefits and takes inspiration from existing capacities. Established channels are used to increase awareness. The European Drought Observatory and the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) are two examples of existing platforms with which GLOWASIS can interact. Also, data from other existing GMES, such as Geoland2 and MyOcean will be accessed. In situ data on agricultural or industrial water use and demand are gathered by initiatives like the International Soil Moisture Network or the Global Energy and Water Cycle Element.

Apart from linking different kinds of validated data, GLOWASIS will also demonstrate the performance of new and future European satellites including SMOS, CryoSAT-2 and Sentinel. Despite the manifold innovations, the project is not the ultimate solution for every issue related to water scarcity. Still, the project it is an important step toward holistic monitoring. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the group of potential users ranges from farmers to high-level policy makers. It is also particularly important to communicate results to the wide range and interests of users, and to share and improve results in the long run. Given that the GLOWASIS interface is multifaceted and also seeks to serve the scientific community, the task of making information accessible is fulfilled through an up-to-date open access portal. The first results look very promising and perhaps GLOWASIS will soon improve decision-making as an operational GMES Service.

GLOWASIS: A collaborative project aimed at pre-validation of a GMES Global Water Scarcity Information Service, is funded within the EU Seventh Framework Programme by the grant agreement 26225 under the call FP7-SPACE-2010.1.1-04.