Global wetlands surveyed from space

For much of the last century wetlands have been drained or otherwise degraded, but scientific understanding of their important roles in terms of biology and the water cycle has grown, spurring international efforts to preserve them. On 20 November ESA formally began a project to map wetlands from space, providing data on around 50 sites in 21 countries worldwide.

In 1971 an inter-governmental treaty established the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, establishing a framework for the stewardship and preservation of wetlands. Today more than 1310 wetlands have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance, a total area of 111 million hectares. The Convention's 138 national signatories are obliged to report on the state of listed wetlands they are responsible for.

ESA's new 1 million Globwetland project is producing satellite-derived and geo-referenced products including inventory maps and digital elevation models of wetlands and the surrounding catchment areas. These products will aid local and national authorities in fulfilling their Ramsar obligations, and should also function as a helpful tool for wetland managers and scientific researchers.

"The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands stresses that targeted assessment and monitoring information is vital for ensuring effective management planning for wetlands, their hydrology and their catchments," explained Nick Davidson, Ramsar's Deputy Secretary General. "Yet for wetland managers and decision-makers in many countries access to sound information about wetlands and how they are changing is often a critical gap.

"By working with users at site and catchment scales the Globwetland project should contribute significantly to helping achieve effective management of these critical important ecosystems for biodiversity and human well-being."

With wetlands often made up of difficult and inaccessible terrain, satellites can help provide information on local topography, the types of

Contact: Diego Fernandez
European Space Agency

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