Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA uses satellite to unearth innovation in crop forecasting

28.05.2009
Soil moisture is essential for seeds to germinate and for crops to grow. But record droughts and scorching temperatures in certain parts of the globe in recent years have caused soil to dry up, crippling crop production. The falling food supply in some regions has forced prices upward, pushing staple foods out of reach for millions of poor people.

NASA researchers are using satellite data to deliver a kind of space-based humanitarian assistance. They are cultivating the most accurate estimates of soil moisture – the main determinant of crop yield changes – and improving global forecasts of how well food will grow at a time when the world is confronting shortages.

During a presentation this week at the the Joint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union in Toronto, NASA scientist John Bolten described a new modeling product that uses data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) sensor on NASA's Aqua satellite to improve the accuracy of West African soil moisture. The group produced assessments of current soil moisture conditions, or "nowcasts," and improved estimates by 5 percent over previous methods. Though seemingly small and incremental, the increase can make a big difference in the precision of crop forecasts, Bolten said.

The modeling innovation comes at a time when crop analysts at agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working to meet the food shortage problem head on. They combine soil moisture estimates with weather trends to produce up-to-date forecasts of crop harvests. Those estimates help regional and national officials prepare for and prevent food crises.

"The USDA's estimates of global crop yields are an objective, timely benchmark of food availability and help drive international commodity markets," said Bolten, a physical scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "But crop estimates are only as good as the observations available to drive the models."

Crop analysts must estimate root-zone soil moisture, the amount of water beneath the surface available for plants to absorb. But estimating the amount of water in soil has posed challenges. Ground-level sensors for rainfall and temperature -- the two key elements for estimating soil moisture – are often sparsely located in the developing nations that need them the most. Hard-to-reach terrain like mountains or desert, lack of local cooperation as well as high maintenance costs, can lead to sensors more than 500 miles apart.

Under a new NASA-USDA collaboration known as the Global Agriculture Monitoring Project, Bolten and colleagues from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service are using AMSR-E to fill the data gaps with daily soil moisture "snapshots." Since its launch in 2002, the instrument has "seen" through clouds, and light vegetation like crops and grasses to detect the amount of soil moisture beneath Earth's surface.

AMSR-E uses varying frequencies to detect the amount of emitted electromagnetic radiation from the Earth's surface. Within the microwave spectrum, this radiation is closely related to the amount of water that is in the soil, allowing researchers to remotely sense the amount of water in the soil across any geographic landscape.

Following a test of their system over the United States, Bolten's team tracked West African rainfall, temperature, and model assessments of soil moisture with and without the AMSR-E satellite sensor observations. They used West Africa as a model because the landscape provides varying cover, from desert and semi-arid landscape in the north to grasslands, lush forests, and crop land to the south. Rainfall in the region is highly variable yet sparsely monitored by ground-based sensors. They also targeted West Africa to demonstrate the possibility for improving the assessment of drought-caused food shortages on the region's dense population.

"Many developing countries are relying on limited and highly variable water resources," said Bolten. "And typically those same regions don't have adequate ground station data or crop-estimating agencies capable of making reliable production forecasts."

By definition, the severity of agricultural drought is determined by root-zone soil water content. So Bolten's satellite-driven boost to root-zone soil moisture prediction also directly improves drought monitoring. And Bolten says results from AMSR-E are just a precursor to dramatic new improvements in data and prediction accuracy researchers expect from the Soil Moisture Active and Passive satellite, slated to launch in 2013.

Food reserves are at their lowest level in 30 years, according to the United Nations World Food Program, putting the world's 1 billion poorest people most at risk. Prices for wheat, rice, and corn have more than doubled in the last 24 months, hitting countries like Haiti, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso the hardest. And the U.S. is not unaffected -- drought in 2008 led to an estimated $1.1 billion in crop losses in Texas alone.

"This advance is making it possible for us to do our job in a more precise way," said Curt Reynolds, a crop analyst for the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington. "We plan to make NASA's soil moisture information available to commodity markets, traders, agricultural producers, and policymakers through our Crop Explorer Web site."

Written by:
Gretchen Cook-Anderson
NASA Earth Science News Team

Sarah DeWitt | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/crop_forecast.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>