Precipitation longterm mean

NOAH: Tracking Water

Water availability dictates the wellbeing of entire communities. Yet, we tend to know very little about our water supplies.

Through mapping, NOAH aims to make water data more accessible and understandable.

The map depicts shifts in rainfall and surface water patterns across the planet over the last four decades. By comparing changes in the water surface level and rainfall highs and lows, you can begin to identify how your community has been affected by water fluctuations, and by how much.

We invite you to use NOAH to explore a host of topics: In regions where the amount of water in lakes and rivers has changed substantially, governments treat water data as a national secret. Recently, as more dams, dikes and homes have been built along waterways, downstream effects have manifested. For example, in southern Louisiana and coastal Bangladesh, dams constructed upstream have blocked water supply to communities downstream.

Unprecedented climate change is already contributing to more extreme conditions. Droughts are now longer and frequent, the monsoons increasingly erratic. NOAH strives to help you tease out these trends, and find the underlying stories.

NOAH gives journalists rich opportunities to discover, report and tell stories.

Touring the world in NOAH, you can find a town where the community’s reservoir is severely depleted, but rainfall has remained stable; raising questions about water management or upstream engineering. You may also stumble upon an area where little has changed on the surface, but where rainfall highs and lows have fluctuated dramatically. How has that impacted the communities?

If you’re a journalist covering a particular area, you can request the raw data for that region. When a climate or water event crops up, you’ll then have historical and modern-day data on-hand to inform your reporting.

The journalists on our team are available to guide you through the map, talk through story ideas and share tips on climate reporting. If you reach out to us at water.appspot@gmail.com, one of our journalists will respond within the week and set up a time to chat.

In Kaliapat, a coastal village in India, Kuntala Rout spends as many as four hours a day filling up vessels with water so her family has enough to drink. Rout says she tries to drink as little water as she can to avoid extra trips to the hand pump.

Rout is not alone. From Kaliapat, to communities along Utah’s northern border in the U.S., to cities in central Argentina, water availability is a pressing issue that transcends borders.

By using this map, Disha Shetty, a co-founder of NOAH, realized that Kaliapat and its surrounding areas had seen a severe decrease in surface water in the past three decades. Read the story here. It’s an example of how the map and long-term climate data can be used to both locate areas facing distress and enhance storytelling.

The Brown Institute for Media Innovation provided a grant to make this application possible.

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society provided integral data support during the construction of the application.



Dec 2018 Precipitation Anomaly

Data Sources

We used open-source data to build this platform, and we’re eager to share what we’ve collected. If you’re interested in interacting with and interrogating the raw data, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team can provide you with data that matches your region and time-period of interest, and talk through any questions you may have.

You can reach us at water.appspot@gmail.com.

Sources: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center’s Climate Anomaly Monitoring System_OPI provided monthly rainfall data going back to 1978. Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society houses this information and presents it in its own online map.

The global surface water data is courtesy of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. Using three million Landsat satellite images, a four-person team at the centre quantified the changes in global surface water between 1984 and 2015. The team published their findings and analysis in Nature in December 2016.

Origin Story

The idea for NOAH came in early 2018. Pietro Ceccato, a climate scientist, was teaching a course at Columbia University’s medical school on how to infuse climate data into public health work. Disha Shetty, a health journalist from India who was working toward her master’s in journalism, walked into the classroom to learn how to better use data in reporting on unprecedented climate changes. After a few courses, the two began chatting about a project that would combine journalism and climate data.

While data on changes in surface water was available through the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, it wasn’t combined with rainfall trends in a single map. Combining the two in NOAH paints a more complete picture of changes in the water cycle and highlights the impacts of human interventions.

That’s when Disha brought in a few more of her then-classmates, and the team got to work.

Team NOAH

Pietro Ceccato

Pietro Ceccato is a development manager at SPACEBEL, Belgium. He’s responsible for developing applications of remote sensing for agriculture, forestry, natural disasters, human health and pests.

Disha Shetty

Disha Shetty is an award-winning Science journalist based out of India. She mainly writes about public health, climate change and the intersection between the two.

Maya Miller

Maya Miller is a data-driven investigative journalist based out of the United States. She reports on health and climate, as well as government oversight.

Pankhuri Kumar

Pankhuri Kumar is pursuing a dual master’s degree in computer science and journalism from Columbia University. She is currently working on a project on Indian media bias during elections

Ravie Lakshmanan

Ravie Lakshmanan is a computational journalist based out of India. He is a news engineer, and has previously reported on wealth management.