Making more accurate determinations about which rivers are most saturated in anticipation of spring's flood season could help meteorologists better predict which flood plains are most at risk. The techniques for making these determinations are detailed in a new study, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.
"Just like a bucket can only hold so much water, the same concept applies to river basins," explained J.T. Reager, the study's lead author and an earth scientist at the University of California, Irvine.
Reager and his fellow researchers at UC-Irvine picked out major floods, like the one that devastated Missouri in 2011, and traced back satellite imagery of the river basins over the months prior. In doing so, they were able to develop a computer model that predicted -- based on the amount of water it had become inundated with over time -- future floods up to five months ahead of time.
"This gives the background on what's on the ground before the rain even gets there," Reager said.
Specifically, the scientists used NASA's twin GRACE satellites to see to what extent river basins were affected by (read: filled with) snow melt, surface water, soil moisture and groundwater.
Reager hopes the techniques revealed in the new study will be incorporated by weather forecasters moving forward.
"It would be amazing if this could have a positive effect and potentially save lives," he said.