Agua in Aconcagua: Integrating NASA Earth Observations into Chile Water Management Practices

This article is a part of the NASA DEVELOP’s Summer 2017 Virtual Poster Session. For more articles like these, click here

Project Team: Chile Water Resources II
Team Location: NASA Ames Research Center – Moffett Field, California
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Authors:
Mariana Webb
Billy Babis
Stuart Deland

Mentors/Advisors:
Dr. Juan Torres-Perez (Bay Area Environmental Research Institute)
Dr. Kenton Ross (NASA Langley Research Center)
Dr. Eduardo Bendek (NASA Ames Research Center)

Past or Other Contributors:
Garrett McGurk
Jenna Williams

False-color NDSI image of the winter 2016 snowpack in the Aconcagua River Valley in Central Chile. Image Credit: Chile Water Resources II Team

Abstract:
The Aconcagua basin of central Chile, just north of the capital city of Santiago, is an arid region dominated by the Andes Mountains and heavily dependent on glaciers and seasonal meltwater for its water reserves. Due to the orographic nature of precipitation on the basin, rain events occur sporadically in the late autumn and winter months of the year, accounting for 80 percent of total annual precipitation, while drought conditions prevail in the austral spring and summer. The Mediterranean-type ecosystem supports agricultural practices such as fruit and vegetable farming, which account for 70 percent of regional water usage. Around the globe, weather intensification and the rising zero-degree isotherm are poised to threaten glacial retreat or complete wastage during the upcoming decades. The Aconcagua basin is especially vulnerable to these changes as a result of its large population, increasing water demands, and reliance on meltwater during the summer months. In response to the concerns articulated by the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture, the research team created a time series of seasonal Normalized Difference Snow Index (NDSI) from 1988 to 2017 to quantify glacier change using TerrSet software. The team replicated the time series analysis in near-real time with server-side processing using Google Earth Engine and compared the results of the parallel analyses. Google Earth Engine also was used to build a tool that combines NASA Earth observations with in situ hydrologic data for a comprehensive overview of regional factors affecting agriculture. The analysis tools created provide an enhanced understanding of glacial meltwater and agricultural water usage and can be used to supplement the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture’s water resource management decision-making.

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