- Author: Ben Faber
NASA's Maps of Global Soil Conditions
Future of Farming
Find water anywhere.
By Mary von Aue
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now using data collected from the first NASA satellite mission dedicated to measuring the water content of soils. These maps created by the space agency will be used to monitor global croplands, make commodity forecasts, and will help the USDA forecast crops globally.
The Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, or SMAP, launched in 2015 in order to map the amount of water in soils worldwide. On Friday, NASA announced that the agency is providing the mission with new tools developed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center that will better predict where there could be too much or too little moisture in the soil to sustain farming.
“There's a lot of need for understanding, monitoring and forecasting crops globally,” said John Bolten, a research scientist at Goddard. “SMAP is NASA's first satellite mission devoted to soil moisture, and this is a very straightforward approach to applying that data.” NASA presents the satellite data in maps that are rendered to resemble watercolor paintings. Soils that are wetter than normal are seen in shades of greens, while those that are drier than normal are seen in shades of browns.
Before this collaboration, the USDA had used computer models that would incorporate precipitation and temperature observations to indirectly calculate soil moisture. However, this approach was prone to error in areas that lacked high-quality, ground-based instrumentation to collect the data. Now, NASA is incorporating direct SMAP data on soil moisture into Crop Explorer, the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service website that reports on regional droughts, floods, and crop forecasts.
The SMAP viewer is still in beta but is expected to provide updated global coverage every three days once it launches. The maps will be managed for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and will provide Crop Explorer with timely updates that are essential for monitoring conditions and forecasting productivity.
This cross-agency collaboration will do more than help the USDA identify farming trends. By monitoring moisture in the soil globally, scientists can more accurately forecast conditions that could have tremendous economic and social impact.
Map created with NASA's SMAP data from May 16-18, 2018/h2>/h1>/h1>/h1>
- Author: Ben Faber
When we think about space missions, we tend to look toward the stars to planets like Mars where robotic rovers roam, gathering data and sending it back to Earth. Rarely do we think about missions closer to home. But a view of Earth from 426 miles above is helping us monitor droughts, predict floods, improve weather forecasts and assist with crop productivity. This year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a new satellite called SMAP (Soil Moisture Active-Passive) with the help of a team that included U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hydrologist Susan Moran at the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) Southwest Watershed Research Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, and physical scientist Wade Crow and hydrologist Thomas Jackson at ARS's Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. ARS scientists played a key role in designing and implementing SMAP—an orbiting observatory that measures the amount of water in the top layer of the soil everywhere on Earth. SMAP gathers soil moisture data that can help track diseases and famine, predict weather and climate patterns, assist emergency workers' response to natural disasters and let farmers know what crops to plant. “We've seen impressive advances in our ability to produce crops on a given area of soil, but have also retained susceptibility to climate events, particularly droughts that occur when there is inadequate soil water for crops,” Crow says. “The idea is to better predict and monitor droughts so they don't turn into food crises, and soil moisture is the most direct and earliest indication of drought.” SMAP provides the best global view of soil moisture to date, Crow says. Therefore, it has the potential to help monitor global food production. It's the best soil moisture sensor ever deployed due to its resolution, accuracy, global coverage and repeat time. Before the satellite was launched, volunteer users around the world could put SMAP's simulated data to use, Moran says. “We wanted to make sure our products would be as good as possible and easy to access. In return, these users provided feedback on how SMAP could help them.” Early users included those in agriculture, weather, human health, emergency response and military readiness. Data were used to monitor droughts, predict floods and even to predict the water supply in New York City, Moran says. “Some used the data to predict large regional dust storms that affect the health of millions of people in Saharan Africa and throughout the Middle East,” she adds. “In Germany, the data were used to map sea ice in hopes of improving maritime navigation, and at Texas A&M University, researchers looked at the impact of hurricanes on power outages.” SMAP will release the first data products to the public in August. To learn more, go to http://smap.jpl.nasa.gov/. - See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/04/07/usda-nasas-global-view-of-earths-soil-holds-many-benefits/#sthash.okw1NTAN.dpuf