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 Climate change weakens Walker circulation
20.10.2017 | MARUM - Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften an der Universität Bremen

nachricht Shallow soils promote savannas in South America
20.10.2017 | Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>