Building Virtual Watersheds: A Global Opportunity to Strengthen Resource Management and Conservation.
| ID: mdl-26645078
Modern land-use planning and conservation strategies at landscape to country scales worldwide require complete and accurate digital representations of river networks, encompassing all channels including the smallest headwaters. The digital river networks, integrated with widely available digital elevation models, also need to have analytical capabilities to support resource management and conservation, including attributing river segments with key stream and watershed data, characterizing topography to identify landforms, discretizing land uses at scales necessary to identify human-environment interactions, and connecting channels downstream and upstream, and to terrestrial environments. We investigate the completeness and analytical capabilities of national to regional scale digital river networks that are available in five countries: Canada, China, Russia, Spain, and United States using actual resource management and conservation projects involving 12 university, agency, and NGO organizations. In addition, we review one pan-European and one global digital river network. Based on our analysis, we conclude that the majority of the regional, national, and global scale digital river networks in our sample lack in network completeness, analytical capabilities or both. To address this limitation, we outline a general framework to build as complete as possible digital river networks and to integrate them with available digital elevation models to create robust analytical capabilities (e.g., virtual watersheds). We believe this presents a global opportunity for in-country agencies, or international players, to support creation of virtual watersheds to increase environmental problem solving, broaden access to the watershed sciences, and strengthen resource management and conservation in countries worldwide.