Remote sensing of previously unavailable dam and river levels, including China’s Lancang Cascade, provide comprehensive view of Mekong
Project aims to increase transparency, accountability, and improve downstream outcomes
WASHINGTON — Today the Stimson Center and its partners launched the Mekong Dam Monitor, a near-real time data platform that uses remote sensing to bring unprecedented transparency to dam operations and water levels across the six countries of the Mekong basin: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The platform is freely available for public use on the U.S. State Department’s Mekong Water Data Initiative website. The project is a collaboration between the Stimson Center and Eyes on Earth, Inc., with funding from the Mekong-US Partnership and the Chino Cienega Foundation.
Use it now: Mekong Dam Monitor project
Multiple Tools in One Platform
For the first time ever, policymakers and the public can have a near-real time picture of how major dams and the climate impact the Mekong’s hydrological conditions. The platform includes:
- River and dam water levels at dozens of locations across the river basin. An interactive map combines data from physical gauges and new “virtual gauges” to provide a single, easily scaled window into water availability, river level, and dam operations. The Monitor’s innovative virtual gauges combine cloud piercing satellite imagery, GIS, and validation modeling to estimate dam and river levels in places where it is not measured or the data is not shared by authorities.
- The status of China’s Lancang Dam Cascade. For the first time, users can see the current and historical status of China’s 11-dam cascade, showing how storage and release across the dams is coordinated for power generation. China’s Xiaowan and Nuozhadu dams together collectively hold about as much water as in the Chesapeake Bay. The platform also includes data from mainstream and tributary dams down river of China’s cascade.
- Natural Flow Models showing how much water should be in the Mekong. Project partner Eyes on Earth uses climate data to show how the river would naturally flow without upstream manipulation by dams or other diversions. The two locations modeled explain approximately 90% of the observed variation.
- Climate anomaly comparisons. Users can compare current and historical maps showing temperature, precipitation, surface wetness, and snow cover in the Mekong basin. Most data is available from 1992 to mid-2020.
- Comprehensive location and construction data on dams across the Mekong basin. The Monitor maps all hydropower dams on the Mekong and its tributaries and, where available, includes data such as dam developers, financers, builders, energy generation, and more.
- More Background: Read the full project note
- How it works: Detail on the Mekong Dam Monitor Methodology and Processes
Brian Eyler, Stimson Center Southeast Asia Program Director and project co-lead said, “The Mekong Dam Monitor platform lifts the veil on dam operations and water levels on the Mekong in a way that’s never been possible before. With innovations like the ‘virtual gauge’ and by pulling various data into one place, we are empowering a wide range of stakeholders across the region. In turn, we hope that transparency will increase accountability, empower countries most affected by dams, and ultimately help protect both the river and the people who depend on it.”
Alan Basist, President of Eyes on Earth and project co-lead said, “We’re taking a data and evidence-based approach that complements the work of regional organizations and supports their missions. Data is our starting point — satellite imagery, wetness and precipitation data, GIS measurements, and more. Hopefully this can help policymakers promote transparency, as well as support a level playing field for negotiations on how best to allocate water resources in the Mekong Basin. .”
The Mekong Dam Monitor project aims to:
- Create incentives for transparency and data sharing,
- Provide evidenced-based information about the condition and operation of dams, reservoirs, and water flow in the Mekong Basin and help counter inaccurate statements,
- Empower stakeholders to make data-driven decisions in negotiations and improve transboundary river governance,
- Provide early warning of impending floods, droughts, and better understand other ecological and social impacts of dams,
- Increase policymaker and public understanding of the benefits of natural river flow and reduce the risk of ecological breakdown in the Mekong.
Support and Funding
The Mekong Dam Monitor is supported by a grant from the U.S Department of State with additional support from Chino Cienega Foundation and individual donors. As part of the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, the Monitor builds on the ongoing work of the Mekong Water Data Initiative (MWDI) to improve the transboundary management of the Mekong River through data sharing and science-based decision making. The project’s total first year budget is $215,000.
ABOUT THE STIMSON CENTER
The Stimson Center promotes international security, shared prosperity & justice through applied research and independent analysis, deep engagement, and policy innovation.
For three decades, Stimson has been a leading voice on urgent global issues. Founded in the twilight years of the Cold War, the Stimson Center pioneered practical new steps toward stability and security in an uncertain world. Today, as changes in power and technology usher in a challenging new era, Stimson is at the forefront: Engaging new voices, generating innovative ideas and analysis, and building solutions to promote international security, prosperity, and justice.
More at www.stimson.org.
The Stimson Center Southeast Asia Program works with key stakeholders in Lower Mekong countries and with key development partners – such as the governments of the United States, Australia, Japan, and EU – to design and implement technical and policy solutions that promote the sustainable development of the Mekong Basin.
ABOUT EYES ON EARTH
Eyes on Earth is a for-profit consulting company which uses pioneering techniques to analyze worldwide land-surface temperature, wetness, and snow cover products derived from passive microwave observations.
The Eyes on Earth team includes founder Alan Basist, a former US government scientist and private sector consultant, who has worked as a climatologist for over 35 years, and Claude Williams, a leading climatologist and an expert in homogeneity adjustment and microwave interpretation.
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