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NASA uses satellite to improve global crop forecasting

Washington, May 27 (ANI): NASA researchers are using satellite data to cultivate the most accurate estimates of soil moisture, which would improve global crop forecasting.

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.

Now, 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 and improving global forecasts of how well food will grow at a time when the world is confronting shortages.

In this context, 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, Maryland.

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 and data gaps.

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.

Bolten says that 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. (ANI)

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