These scientific breakthroughs could help address the world’s water crisis

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These scientific breakthroughs could help address the world’s water crisis

Satellite data that helps fight cholera. Forecasts that help farmers flee monsoons. Models that predict how shifting rivers can affect drinking water. Scientists worldwide are developing technologies like these to tackle the planet's biggest water challenges, such as the lack of clean water for 1.2 billion people and the rising threats of deadly downpours, droughts and flooding caused by climate change.  SEE ALSO: Coca-Cola says it 'replenished' all the water it used to make its soft drinks This month, a Saudi Arabian nonprofit awarded eight scientists the International Prize for Water for their breakthrough research.  The bi-annual prize, established by the late Saudi prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz in 2002, recognizes researchers who are creatively addressing problems of water scarcity, an issue that's top of mind to the desert Saudi kingdom. Young girls carry buckets of clean water across rice paddy fields in Dala, Myanmar, May 1, 2016. Image: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images The United Nations' Friends of Water group hosted the Nov. 2 awards ceremony at the U.N. headquarters in New York. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon presided over the gala along with the prize committee chairman, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz. Here's a look at some of the award-winning research: Spotting cholera outbreaks before they happen Two professors shared the "creativity" award for finding a way to predict cholera outbreaks three to six months in advance. Cholera is a diarrheal disease that spreads in contaminated water and causes severe dehydration. It infects up to 5 million people and kills about 100,000 people worldwide each year.  Rita Colwell, an oceanographer and microbiologist at University of Maryland, has studied cholera for decades. She found cholera bacteria was often associated with the presence of zooplankton, the microscopic creatures found in lakes, rivers and ocean In this Oct. 25, 2016 photo, A Haitian man bathes with water from a well that was contaminated by sea water and trash during Hurricane Matthew, Oct. 25, 2016. Haiti's well water and rivers carried cholera bacteria, which epidemiologists suspect has sickened thousands of people since the storm. Image: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery In the 1980s, Colwell and other researchers learned they could spot cholera by monitoring chlorophyl levels with satellite sensors. Chlorophyl is a key indicator of plankton growth and points to peaks in bacteria. Colwell and fellow prize-winner Shafiqul Islam, who directs the Water Diplomacy Program at Tufts University, used satellite data to build a statistical model for predicting cholera outbreaks. The team has used the model in the Bay of Bengal region to predict outbreaks in Bangladesh.  Colwell said she and Islam are now pursuing a technique to spot other bacterial viruses by extracting DNA from water samples. "This is the latest battle for human health: removing disease agents in drinking water," Colwell said at the U.N. ceremony. Far-flung flood warnings  Torrential monsoon rainfalls this year have killed hundreds of people in China and displaced 1.2 million people in India. Rural families often don't receive flood warnings and have little time to prepare for the coming catastrophe. Peter Webster, an earth and atmospheric sciences professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, won the second "creativity" prize for developing a way to predict monsoon rainfalls and give farmers ample heads-up. An aerial view shows flooding in low-lying areas on the outskirts of Allahabad, India, Aug. 26, 2016. Image: Ritesh Shukla/NurPhoto/Sipa USA Webster does what he said the Bangladesh government can't afford to do: process a terabyte of data and transmit it near real-time around the world. His approach starts with global rainfall forecasts from European institutions. At Georgia Tech, Webster and colleagues adjust the forecasts and apply them to hydrological models that assess changes in atmosphere-ocean interactions.  "Within about nine hours, a village somewhere in Bangladesh gets this forecast that the river will rise or fall in the next 15 days, and we also tell them what the probability will be," Webster told Mashable at the awards gala. "We anticipate disasters, mitigate the damage and allow people to determine their own fate," he said. "As opposed to a flood just arriving and they lose everything." Tracking water resources before they vanish Other prize-winners are focused on figuring out how much clean water we might have in the future and where it might be located.  Daniel Loucks of Cornell University built predictive models to determine how local stressors — such as population growth and climate change — will affect the availability and quality of water resources in a particular area. Urban planners and engineers in Canada, Cambodia, China and Peru and dozens of other countries have used these models to develop water management plans. Mike Stearns, chairman of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, checks the soil moisture on drought-stricken land near Firebaugh, California, Feb. 25, 2016. Image: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Gary Parker from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is studying how rivers naturally shift shapes and directions, which could help predict how meandering rivers will affect water flow and floodplains, and therefore flooding or water depletion, in the future. At the ceremony, Ban Ki-Moon said that "science has a crucial role to play" in sustainable development worldwide, particularly as rising populations and the effects of climate change put further stress on drinking water supplies.  "Let us continue working for a world where all people have access to water and sanitation," the secretary-general said.
These scientific breakthroughs could help address the world's water crisis

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