Applying NASA Earth Observations to Mitigate the Impacts of Chilean Drought

EarthzineDEVELOP Fall 2013 VPS, DEVELOP Virtual Poster Session, Original


Elevation zone and MODIS snow cover extent maps of the LimarÌ_ Basin, Coquimbo, Chile. Image Credit: Chile Water Resources Team, NASA DEVELOP National Program.

Team Location: Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia


Joshua Kelly, Project Lead (University of Rhode Island)

Bethany Burress (Christopher Newport University)

Jeffry Ely (Old Dominion University)

Ajoke Williams (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Amberle Keith (Idaho State University)


Kenton Ross, Ph.D. (NASA, DEVELOP National Science Adviser)

James Favors (Wise County, DEVELOP National Program)

Angelica Gutierrez (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Past/Other Contributors:

Pedro Bejares (Embassy of Chile to the United States)

Joaquin Tagle (Embassy of Chile to the United States)

Ricardo Cabezas Cartes (Centro de InformaciÌ_n de Recursos Naturales)


For the past four years, Chile has been experiencing a record drought that has driven broad-ranging stressors for many sectors in the country, most notably water resources and agriculture. This has been especially true in the northern regions of Chile, such as the Limar̍ River Basin, where desert-like conditions already exist and strains on limited water resources are more pronounced. åÊThis basin is located in the Coquimbo region, or Region IV, of Chile and covers an area of 11,696 square kilometers.

A major source of available water is snowmelt from the adjacent Andes Mountains where snow can accumulate above 2,500 meters. Maximum river discharge is reached during the late spring and summer months (October-January) coinciding with the growing season. The Centro de InformaciÌ_n de Recursos Naturales (CIREN) maintains and interprets images and data as they relate to agriculture and natural resources within Coquimbo. Currently, measurements of streamflow and available water from snowpack are limited to sparse monitoring stations in the mountains; therefore forecasts of available water for the growing season are unreliable.

This project used existing hydrologic and temperature data from the monitoring stations in combination with remote-sensing techniques to better determine potential water availability for the 2013 growing season (September to November). Global digital elevation data collected by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) sensor on board the Terra satellite was used to delineate the watershed boundary of the LimarÌ_ Basin. The daily snow cover extent within the LimarÌ_ Basin was determined and mapped by using data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board the Terra satellite. Snow cover data was used with other hydrologic data in the Snowmelt Runoff Model (SRM) created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to forecast the amount of daily Andean snowmelt discharge. These predictions will help the regional water group decide how to allocate water most efficiently in the community.

Return to the Fall 2013 VPS page.