Water Resources in Africa under Global Change: Monitoring Surface Waters from Space

Surv Geophys. 2023;44(1):43-93. doi: 10.1007/s10712-022-09700-9. Epub 2022 Apr 20.


Abstract: The African continent hosts some of the largest freshwater systems worldwide, characterized by a large distribution and variability of surface waters that play a key role in the water, energy and carbon cycles and are of major importance to the global climate and water resources. Freshwater availability in Africa has now become of major concern under the combined effect of climate change, environmental alterations and anthropogenic pressure. However, the hydrology of the African river basins remains one of the least studied worldwide and a better monitoring and understanding of the hydrological processes across the continent become fundamental. Earth Observation, that offers a cost-effective means for monitoring the terrestrial water cycle, plays a major role in supporting surface hydrology investigations. Remote sensing advances are therefore a game changer to develop comprehensive observing systems to monitor Africa's land water and manage its water resources. Here, we review the achievements of more than three decades of advances using remote sensing to study surface waters in Africa, highlighting the current benefits and difficulties. We show how the availability of a large number of sensors and observations, coupled with models, offers new possibilities to monitor a continent with scarce gauged stations. In the context of upcoming satellite missions dedicated to surface hydrology, such as the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT), we discuss future opportunities and how the use of remote sensing could benefit scientific and societal applications, such as water resource management, flood risk prevention and environment monitoring under current global change.

Article highlights: The hydrology of African surface water is of global importance, yet it remains poorly monitored and understoodComprehensive review of remote sensing and modeling advances to monitor Africa's surface water and water resourcesFuture opportunities with upcoming satellite missions and to translate scientific advances into societal applications.

Keywords: Africa; Hydrology; Modeling; Remote sensing; Review; Surface water.

Publication types

  • Review