A new project has just been set in motion to build a 3D map of the Ganges River, Lou Del Bello reports in Nature News & Comment on August 7. The aim of this unprecedented undertaking is to create a digital model of the river that could help authorities pinpoint sources of pollution in an effort to reduce the amount of waste finding its way into the river.
This immense project, expected to take approximately eight months at an estimated cost of 870 million rupees (US$12.7 million), is being led by Girish Kumar, head of the national surveying agency, the Survey of India in Dehradun in the Himalayan foothills. Scientists and engineers are racing to complete the project before the monsoon arrives, which could delay progress.
According to Nature, small planes equipped with lidar instruments ― a technology similar to radar that illuminating the ground with pulsed laser light and measures the reflected pulses ― will be used to scan a 2,525-kilometre length of the river and produce digital elevation models of both the river and the multitude of buildings within 10 kilometres of the riverbanks.
One important aspect of the work will be high-resolution maps of the drainage systems of the major cities situated beside the Ganges. Detailed maps will allow engineers to develop more effective strategies for waste-reduction methods, such as diverting raw sewage, as well as provide a more in-depth understanding of how the river bank is being eroded, and will also help local governments to manage flood risks and other potential disasters.
The “Mapping Mother Ganges” is part of a larger initiative put in place in 2015 by the Indian government to clean up the Ganges ― the 200-billion-rupee scheme is called the National Mission for Clean Ganga. The overarching aims include reducing industrial pollution, improving wastewater treatment methods, and dealing with sanitation issues, as many people in rural areas still do not have access to proper toilet facilities defecate outdoors, which results in excrement making its way into rivers. Another major issue is water burials resulting in numerous corpses regularly being sent into the river.
The river is an important part of Hindu culture, considered sacred and worshipped as the embodiment of the goddess Ganga, and is the site of many religious ceremonies. But the river itself is one of the world’s dirtiest and most polluted and therefore poses a significant threat to human health as it runs through five Indian states and acts as a lifeline to many regions. The communities and cities lining the Ganges are home to around 600 million people that rely on this water source for both drinking water and bathing.
The Indian government is still far from its 2020 goals owing to delays caused by various factors such as poor financial management and ineffective planning, and numerous studies have shown the water is still not suitable for drinking or bathing. The proposed maps will uncover both the topography of the river as well as the human settlements surrounding it and may provide a pivotal step toward further progress in cleaning up this important water source that is deeply embedded in Hindu culture and a means of survival for many.