NASA Technology Lends Farmers a Hand – From Space!

There may be help from space for farmers! This help might also play a hand in road-building, the weather forecast and halting melting ice in the Arctic.  NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission monitors how wet the soil is around the world  - and it does it from space!  NASA first started working on the SMAP in effort to improve forecasts of hazards such as drought and floods.  The SMAP was launched successfully Saturday, January 31st.  The Canadian space agency committed $1.1 million toward the NASA project.

Canadian scientists at universities and federal government departments across the country have been involved in the satellite mission, which will map the amount of soil moisture in the top five centimeters of soil worldwide. It uses radar and detectors for radio waves and will be able to distinguish between soil that is thawed or frozen.

The SMAP will provide valuable information to farmers.  Not only does the level of soil moisture determine the yield of crops, but it can also provide early warning signs of conditions that might lead to explosion of pests, such as canola disease blackleg and some blight that affect grains.

Soil moisture and Temperature maps can be combine to create maps showing high risks for certain crops.  The data can also be useful for insurance companies that are trying to figure out who has been hit by drought or floods, to aid in figuring whose claim to accept.  In the future, the data may be used to help predict flooding, as water logged soils that can’t take any more moisture create more runoff.

The SMAP can also provide data where the soil is frozen or thawed.  Arctic is warming because of climate change and the soil that was once frozen is now thawing.  Mapping the melt across the arctic will help in building of new roads, buildings, pipelines and other infrastructure as melting can cause the ground to sink.  Pin pointing this can reduce damage to infrastructure and save significant amount of money and reduce damage to environment.

Now that the SMAP is launched the antenna will start rotating in about two weeks and start to collect data.  The satellite will begin moisture mapping in about 70 days.  This means the Canadian team will have to make sure the data actually represents the soil moisture in the ground.  This 3 year mission will help scientists to improve weather, climate, drought, and flood forecasting, as well as measure how much carbon plants are taking from the atmosphere.

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