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New satellite data will help farmers in drought

The past two winters have been the driest for California since 1879 according to NASA newsletter released on Monday.

Satellite To Measure Greenhouse Gas Launches
Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images

NASA will introduce Soil Moisture Passive satellite this winter. It will launch to collect data that farmers and water managers need to manage the agricultural situation.

There will be two microwave instruments set atop the soil on the Earth’s surface. SMAP, as it is called, will map the entire globe within two- three days. It is easy to determine a difficult year for agriculture in California when snow cap melt down on mountains is seen in California. The difficulty is that other parts of the world require soil measurement, as there are no other observations such as mountain caps.

“Agricultural drought occurs when the demand for water for crop production exceeds available water supplies from precipitation, surface water and sustainable withdrawals from groundwater,” said Forrest Melton, a research scientist in the Ecological Forecasting Lab at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

It is difficult to manage planting if only underground water is available. Planting can be delayed and set in a timeline with better reports of soil moisture content.

NASA will also be measuring the atmospheric carbon dioxide from NASA’s Langley Research Center in late August. Climate change adds pressure to determining the situation of agriculture and its forecast.

The forests of Northern California and along the Oregon coast and the cornfields of Indiana all require NASA to record the levels of carbon dioxide. If there is insufficient water to sprout roots then there is not only a loss of food but a loss of plant and tree life which means that photosynthesis cannot be performed. This process is needed to maintain the cycle for farmers to produce food. A lack of soil moisture and carbon dioxide imbalance leads to a process that increases drought conditions.

A new system that uses laser light to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide will be on board a DC 8 for the flights. The project named ASCENDS, which stands for Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Nights, Days and Seasons will bring a period instead of a question mark to the level of carbon dioxide according to Byron Meadows, NASA Langley’s ASCENDS project manager.

The measurement helps the projection of how much damage will occur due to loss of trees and other indicators in the calculation of climate change.

NASA’s OCO-2, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) instruments has its first mission dedicated to carbon dioxide. According to project leader, Dr. Christian Frankenberg, a research scientist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains that this will test the waters to see how far we can go with space-based carbon dioxide information. He states, "I am hoping that the mission’s legacy will eventually be a more complete picture of the planet’s carbon budget and a more definitive answer to which areas of the world are absorbing our carbon emissions."

The bottom line for California farmers and those around the world means that information on how to plant and utilize the cycles become more important than over a century past.