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A new study suggests that satellite data may provide clues about which river basins are likely to overflow, months in advance.

Satellites may provide clues about flooding months in advance

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 7:27 PM - A new study suggests that satellite data may provide clues about which river basins are likely to flood, months before they overflow.

Satellite imagery helps paint a more accurate picture of how water is accumulating in river basins, which may eventually lead to earlier flood warnings, researchers at the University of California, Irvine say.

For their study, the team examined data captured during NASA’s Gravity Recovery & Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, which took place during the 2011 Missouri River floods.

Upon analyzing the groundwater accumulation below the surface, researchers determined they would have had enough evidence to increase regional flood warning by up to five months.

A separate analysis of the 2011 Columbia River floods suggested that flood warnings could have been issued three months prior to any actual flooding.

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"GRACE data contain important hydrologic information that is not currently being utilized to estimate regional flood potential," said lead author J.T. Reager in a statement. "This could significantly increase flood prediction lead times within large river basins." 

"These data can show us when river basins have been filling with water over several months,” adds senior author Jay Famiglietti.

"We’re not talking about actual flooding but about the saturation level of the ground and its predisposition to flooding. When it finally rains and the basin is full, there is nowhere else for the water to go."

The study was published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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