sustainable water for an uncertain future

Dr. Fadji Maina

Can you imagine a single day without water?

In Niger, my home country in Africa, people struggle every single day to have a glass of water! Water is a human right. California, our home, is already experiencing climate change, the most critical problems of our society.

You all certainly remember how devastating the wildfires were last November and how ugly the extreme events were over the past years… and this is just the beginning of a new era. Severe droughts, unprecedented wildfires, extreme precipitations. How does this new normal affect our water resources?

Water is a result of complex processes. Present in different forms (liquid, ice, and gas), water interacts with the atmosphere, the earth's surface, and underground. It is extremely difficult to capture water’s movement across Earth because it changes speed, position, and form all at the same time. We try to reproduce these movements with mathematical models, but with a highly uncertain and complex future, we need state-of-the-art physics-based models to tackle it.

Unfortunately, these mathematical models take so much time to reproduce water’s journey across the Earth. But we don’t have that time, because it is urgent to make decisions.

Thanks to advances in high-performance-computing, we are able to capture water movement across Earth in high-resolution, on a regional scale, and in near-real time. To check if our models are able to accurately represent the movement of water, we compare them with measurements performed on Earth but also in space by remote sensing techniques.

Our results show that as humankind is its own enemy. Our excessive use of water has more impact on water resources than the whims of Mother Nature. On other hand, our study found that devastating wildfires can significantly contribute to an increase in California’s snowpack, the state’s main source of water supply in river and groundwater storages.

As scientists, we love strong curiosity and challenges. As human beings, assuring that the future will be bright for the next generation is our core value. Never forget this next generation, whether they are from California or Africa, needs water.