Our planet is continually surveilled by an ever-increasing fleet of Earth-observing satellites. Their sensors capture optical and radar imagery and a vast range of other data that can be used to better understand our planet and manage its natural resources. With support from the Canadian Space Agency, C-CORE has developed a satellite-based monitoring program for the NWT’s three major water systems. Water Ecosystems Monitoring using Earth Observation (WEMEO) program was designed by C‑CORE, in collaboration with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the communities within the Slave River and Delta, Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River regions, to gather information about the quality and abundance of the water in in the NWT.

The program monitors key environmental indicators (water levels and flooding, course changes, temperature, ice build-up, sediment deposits and vegetation) using both satellite imagery and community-based sampling, providing baseline information for undeveloped regions and allowing  researchers to correlate trends in environmental indicators of ecosystem health with environmental changes noted in communities through sharing of traditional knowledge.

There are many reasons for monitoring these indicators. Changes in flooding regimes can affect the productivity of the Delta. Changing river courses can impede communities’ access to hunting and fishing grounds. Changes in water temperature can affect the quality of fish. Heavy river ice build-up can threaten traditional winter food such as beaver and muskrat; weak or thin ice poses danger to travellers.  Sediments flowing into the rivers and lakes replenish minerals within the water system, enriching vegetation and wildlife, or could alternatively be a source of contamination; identifying origin and measuring concentrations is critical to understanding how they are affecting vegetation and wildlife.

Through this project, C-CORE is supporting northern communities in their goal of implementing the NWT Water Strategy: A Plan for Action 2016-2020, aimed at keeping the waters of the NWT safe and clean for all time.