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Freshwater resources are becoming increasingly limited in many parts of the world, and decision makers are demanding new tools for monitoring water availability and rates of consumption. Remotely sensed thermal-infrared imagery collected by Landsat provides estimates of land-surface temperature that allow mapping of evapotranspiration (ET) at the spatial scales at which water is being used. This paper explores the utility of moderate-resolution thermal satellite imagery in water resource management. General modeling techniques for using land-surface temperature in mapping the surface energy balance are described, including methods developed to safeguard ET estimates from expected errors in the remote sensing inputs. Examples are provided of how remotely sensed maps of ET derived from Landsat thermal imagery are being used operationally by water managers today: in monitoring water rights, negotiating interstate compacts, estimating water-use by invasive species, and in determining allocations for agriculture, urban use, and endangered species protection. Other applications include monitoring drought and food insecurity, and evaluation of large-scale land-surface and climate models. To better address user requirements for high-resolution, time-continuous ET data, novel techniques have been developed to improve the spatial resolution of Landsat thermal-band imagery and temporal resolution between Landsat overpasses by fusing information from other wavebands and satellites. Finally, a strategy for future modification to the Landsat program is suggested, improving our ability to track changes in water use due to changing climate and growing population. The long archive of global, moderate resolution TIR imagery collected by the Landsat series is unmatched by any other satellite program, and will continue to be an invaluable asset to better management of our earth's water resources.
► Thermal satellite data provide valuable information for water resource management.
► We summarize applications for moderate resolution thermal data from Landsat.
► Uses include monitoring water consumption, ecosystem health, and food security.
► Synergistic fusion with data from other satellite platforms improves utility.
► An optimal satellite system configuration for global water management is outlined.
Journal: Remote Sensing of Environment - Volume 122, July 2012, Pages 50–65