Crossing the “Valley of Death”: Lessons Learned from Implementing an Operational Satellite-Based Flood Forecasting System

Faisal Hossain Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, Tennessee

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A. H. M. Siddique-E-Akbor Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, Tennessee

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Wondmagegn Yigzaw Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, Tennessee

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Sardar Shah-Newaz Institute of Water Modelling, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Monowar Hossain Institute of Water Modelling, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Liton Chandra Mazumder Institute of Water Modelling, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Tanvir Ahmed Institute of Water Modelling, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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C. K. Shum The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio and Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

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Hyongki Lee University of Houston, Houston, Texas

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Sylvain Biancamaria Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Laboratoire d'Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales, Toulouse, France

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Francis J. Turk Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

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Ashutosh Limaye NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama

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More than a decade ago, a National Research Council (NRC) report popularized the term “valley of death” to describe the region where research on weather satellites had struggled to reach maturity for societal applications. A similar analogy can be drawn for other satellite missions, since their vantage point in space can be highly useful for some of the world's otherwise fundamentally intractable operational problems. One such intractable problem is flood forecasting for downstream nations where the f looding is transboundary. Bangladesh fits in this category by virtue of its small size and location at the sink of the mighty Ganges and Brahmaputra. There has been the claim made that satellites can be a solution for Bangladesh in achieving forecasts with lead times beyond three days. This claim has been backed up by scientific research done by numerous researchers, who have shown proof of concept of using satellite data for extending flood forecasting range. This article aims to take the reader on a journey that had its humble beginnings with this promising research and ended with making the dream of an operational system that is independently owned by the stakeholders a reality. The idea behind this article is to shed light on some of the commonly experienced but less familiar (in the academic community) roadblocks to making an operational system based on recent research survive in developing nations without long-term incubation.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Faisal Hossain, University of Washington, 201 More Hall, Box 352700, Seattle, WA 98105 E-mail: fhossain@uw.edu

More than a decade ago, a National Research Council (NRC) report popularized the term “valley of death” to describe the region where research on weather satellites had struggled to reach maturity for societal applications. A similar analogy can be drawn for other satellite missions, since their vantage point in space can be highly useful for some of the world's otherwise fundamentally intractable operational problems. One such intractable problem is flood forecasting for downstream nations where the f looding is transboundary. Bangladesh fits in this category by virtue of its small size and location at the sink of the mighty Ganges and Brahmaputra. There has been the claim made that satellites can be a solution for Bangladesh in achieving forecasts with lead times beyond three days. This claim has been backed up by scientific research done by numerous researchers, who have shown proof of concept of using satellite data for extending flood forecasting range. This article aims to take the reader on a journey that had its humble beginnings with this promising research and ended with making the dream of an operational system that is independently owned by the stakeholders a reality. The idea behind this article is to shed light on some of the commonly experienced but less familiar (in the academic community) roadblocks to making an operational system based on recent research survive in developing nations without long-term incubation.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Faisal Hossain, University of Washington, 201 More Hall, Box 352700, Seattle, WA 98105 E-mail: fhossain@uw.edu
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