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Forecast Mekong: Visualizing Shared Waters

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Forecast Mekong: Visualizing Shared Waters
Audio Script – July 2011

The Mekong is one of the world's great rivers cascading through six Asian countries from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea, connecting China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

How one country uses or changes the waters of the Mekong upstream can have important implications for the health of the river and people downstream.

Increasing demands for hydropower and irrigation have prompted several countries to plan the construction of large dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries. The cumulative effects of such dams can be quantified through the use of hydrologic data and computer models. Visualization tools can help people develop a shared understanding of river resources and provide a science basis for critical decisions about regional development and sustainability.

In 1995, the nations of the Lower Mekong basin established the Mekong River Commission to assist in the integrated management of the river flow and its ecosystem benefits.

The Mekong River Commission, or MRC, has developed a suite of hydrology models within a decision-support framework to forecast changes in river flow and water quality from proposed development projects such as dams.

The U.S. Department of State in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey and university partners are developing visualization tools to help policy makers and planners communicate and evaluate complex river issues.

The flood waters of the Mekong River are critical to the food security and livelihoods of millions of people in Southeast Asia.

From July to December, the Mekong swells with the addition of snow melt and monsoon rains, peaking in September and October, before receding to annual lows during the normal dry season.

When turbid flood waters of the Mekong join the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia, there is a reversal of flow which more than quadruples the size of the unique Tonle Sap Lake.

The natural expansion and contraction of the Tonle Sap Lake each year accounts for one of the world’s most abundant inland fisheries – a resource that is critical to food security in the region.

Upstream dams pose potential environmental threats to the Tonle Sap and the lower Mekong River and Delta. While dams and reservoirs provide valuable services to society, they can also alter normal or natural flow regimes and fish migration.

And while the impact of a single dam may be minimal, the cumulative effect of tens or hundreds of small tributary dams within a larger river system can be substantial depending on dam location, operation, and size.

Over the next 20-30 years, the major area of water resource development is anticipated to be hydropower, the fundamental feature of which is the shift of water from the wet to the dry season via reservoir storage.

Increased dry season flow decreases the risk of water shortages and increases the options for dry season irrigation to produce a second or third rice crop.

Reservoirs and dams, depending on design, slow river runoff and capture sediment important for river life and delta nourishment downstream.

New engineering methods, such as sluice gates, are being incorporated into dam designs to enhance the flush of sediments from reservoirs and minimize some of the downstream effects of dams.

The flow regulation that results from dam construction may benefit some Mekong River residents, but changing natural water flow patterns can be problematic for sustaining the rich biodiversity of fish in the Mekong, particularly some species with long-distance migratory patterns.

Migration patterns of important species can be graphically captured in the visualization to aid impact assessments of proposed dams with increased understanding of fisheries ecology of the Mekong.

Forecast Mekong is building partnerships with the Mekong River Commission and others to develop advanced computer applications and visualizations that will enhance the understanding of complex river issues and the results of hydrologic models used to coordinate the development of water resources in the Mekong Basin from the mountains to the sea.

The six nations that share the Mekong River will all benefit from a commonly-held understanding of the benefits, trade-offs, and impacts of water resource development. Scientific visualization provides a powerful tool for improving future planning and harmonizing the development of the Mekong for people, fish, and wildlife.

Details

Title: Forecast Mekong: Visualizing Shared Waters

Description:

The Mekong is one of the world's great rivers cascading through six Asian countries from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea, connecting China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. How one country uses or changes the waters of the Mekong upstream can have important implications for the health of the river and people downstream. Increasing demands for hydropower and irrigation have prompted several countries to plan the construction of dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries. The cumulative effects of such dams can be quantified through the use of hydrologic data and computer models. Visualization tools can help people develop a shared understanding of river resources and provide a science basis for critical decisions about regional development and sustainability. The U.S. Department of State in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey and university partners are developing visualization tools to help policy makers and planners communicate and evaluate complex river issues. The video is a form of science diplomacy requested by the U.S. Department of State to educate policy-makers and citizens in Southeast Asia about the vital importance of the Mekong river and delta in maintaining food security and livelihoods in the region. The six nations that share the Mekong River will all benefit from a commonly-held understanding of the benefits, trade-offs, and impacts of water resource development. Scientific visualization provides a powerful tool for improving future planning and harmonizing the development of the Mekong for people, fish, and wildlife.

Location: , Mekong River Basin, Southeast Asia

Date Taken: 6/22/2011

Length: 5:00

Video Producer: Thomas W. Doyle , USGS National Wetlands Research Center


Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

Additional Video Credits:

Azmy Ackleh, Dipesh Bhattarai, Si Feng, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA

Scott Malo, Tom Bennett, Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, Lafayette, LA

File Details:

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Tags: ClimateChange EvaluateComplexRiverIssues ForecastMekong LowerMekongInitiative MekongDelta MekongRiver MississippiDelta MississippiRiver SeaLevelRise StateDepartment

 

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