Earth Observations for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Earth Observations for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

The Challenge

There is a need to harmonize plans for the water, food, and energy resources to optimize productivity and profitability, reduce environmental impacts, and enhance long-term sustainability in these three sectors.

The Solution

The long-term vision of this pilot initiative is to address this WEF Nexus challenge through more comprehensive and effective services arising from the application of Earth observations in combination with models, and technologies. To maximize the benefits of these services, it is important to integrate them to ensure that the services and their benefits support the three sectors of concern, particularly in the issues where they interact.

To achieve this vision the following projects and services are under development:

Irrigation management system:

Irrigation scheduling to provide effective use of water resources under drought and climate changes. These services are being provided for farmers on individual farms, mostly for model validation and calibration. Based on these results a national irrigation information service is being developed for Sweden. This approach tracks the use of water and energy in the process, and crops yield response to water applied.

Integrated Snow Monitoring System:

The SnowSAT project measures snow accumulation and its contribution to the runoff from mountainous areas for hydropower production. Manual and automated measurements are used to train AI algorithms for improving Earth observation products.

Advisory service for resilience for the FEW Nexus Outputs from the C-FEWS model for the Northeastern and midwestern USA to assess how the FEW Nexus will be impacted by climate change. Advisory services based on the model outputs will indicate which aspects of the FEW is most vulnerable to climate change and how building resilience to mitigate the effects of climate change will have the greatest impact.

Agrivoltaic systems:

Technological developments leading to more efficient solar energy production over croplands using the concept of agrivoltaics, which involves the dual use of land for solar electricity production and crop production. Currently technologies are being evaluated using Earth observations.

Integrated information services:

A “one-stop” information system is in its very early stages of development for farmers and others in a specific basin for information needed for WEF-related decisions using satellite data and other earth observations. Potential users in the Red River Basin of the North are being consulted about their needs from information and several existing regional information platforms are being identified and evaluated.

Technical Products and services (Developed):

Irrigation management system:

Outputs and services from this system are being used in Sweden by farmers with irrigation systems. Consideration is being given to changes needed to make this a national system.

To date, the services that have been developed range from those already in use by a set of users, prototypes at the research stage, and under development.


In the SnowSAT project, manual and automated measurements of the snowpack in the mountains in northern Sweden are carried out to develop a heterogeneous dataset for improving current Earth observation products and develop new prototype for snow monitoring by AI algorithms. The aim of the project is provide a more accurate depiction of snow availability to improve hydropower planst management and avoid spilling water during melt periods.


The efficiency of agrivoltaic systems are being evaluated to determine which configuration is optimal in terms of shading produced and the effects on microclimate and crop production. Remote sensing data have been used for solar radiation to better assess the diffuse component of the photosynthetically active radiation and its impacts on crop productivity. Currently remote sensing data related to soil moisture is used to validate the modelled soil moisture and provide a more accurate spatially explicit soil moisture distribution.

The irrigation scheduling system which has been developed for Sweden is being used to assess the effects of irrigation on water and energy use and the effects of irrigation scheduling for crop yield and water use. Irrigation is not currently used extensively in Sweden but investment in irrigation systems are increasing due to the more frequent occurrence of dry summers in the last decade and the likelihood that climate changes will accelerate this trend.

The CFEWS model has been developed to analyze the impacts of climate extremes on the capacity of the Food-Energy-Water systems in the Northeastern and Midwestern USA and to determine how these function will change under changing climatic, environmental, technology and management transformations today and into the future. Advisory services to promote resilience in the light of these changes are also being developed.

Some results from the C-FEWS model are in the process of being published and are being used in prototype advisory serves which promote green solutions. Information from this model is used to provide advice on the mix of grey and green (natural capital) infrastructure which is best suited to meeting present and future needs.

A special issue in Frontiers Journal on building resilience on the FEW Nexus is being finalized. It will contain at least 24 contributions outlining how more resilience can be built into the Food-Energy-Water Nexus infrastructure and related activities recognizing changes expected based on the C-FEWS and other models using data derived in part from remote sensing information.

Latest Developments

August 2023: Tentative plan for a EO4WEF CoP Zoom call September 2023: Completion of the EO4WEF Virtual Workshop manuscript and submission to a relevant Journal November 2023: Meeting with NASA representatives to assess the possibility of validating Earth observation data for agrivoltaic and irrigation projects December 2023: Team leadership meeting and participation in the Fall AGU Meeting.

Our Impact

During COVID19, the EO4WEF held a virtual workshop for which the results currently are being synthesized into a journal paper.

The advances of different approaches to advisory services on building resilience in the FEWS to climate change has been undertaken by the project team of one of the project leads. A special issue on this topic is in progress with Frontiers. Currently 24 papers have been accepted in this special issue.

A prototype irrigation service had been developed by Mälardalen University that covers Sweden. This is an important study since it identifies areas for which farmers can better prepare for the effects of climate change by adopting irrigation technology.

The collection of data on the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) in mountainous areas in northern Sweden and its impact on potential water resources is a unique project leading to innovative applications of IoT to hydrological monitoring.

Work on agrivoltaic systems has resulted in improved models to better depict the diffuse fraction of photosynthetically active radiation and microclimate produced by agrivoltaic systems on crops.

As outlined in several papers on Earth Observations applications (e.g., Lawford et al, 2013; Lawford, 2019), the use of an information system that exploits available satellite data could provide many benefits for producers, government regulators as well as the environment and achieving sustainable development goals related to natural resources. Plans are being developed to test this concept in the Red River Basin of the North.

How We Work

The pilot initiative currently relies on its Community of Practice for most of its outreach and feedback. It serves as an advisory group and contributes to the development of concepts. The group has links to Sweden, the USA, Canada and more recently collaborations with Mediterranean countries through PRIMA WEFE. Most of the WEF activities directly involve or build upon funded research projects with one of our main partners. NASA (GSFC) data services are also important partners in the EO4WEF initiative, which is exploring the possibility of serving as a case study of Open Science and data services for integrated research. The Community of Practice is open to everyone who wants to join. The group relies on its leadership team which meets mostly by Zoom approximately every two months and more frequently by email to discuss next steps. Membership in the Community of Practice is open to anyone working on or interested in WEF issues.


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