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New Satellite Will Help USDA Provide More Information to Farmers

Satellites orbiting the Earth help us in countless ways. For example, they allow the GPS in our smartphones to tell us where we are located and they help us watch football games on weekends. And now a new NASA satellite scheduled for launch in 2014—the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) instrument—will help USDA better predict agricultural productivity and forecast drought conditions.

There are three things of utmost importance to farmers—soil, sun and water. SMAP will serve at the junction of two of these variables, helping USDA and others improve its knowledge and understanding of soil moisture. Measuring soil moisture helps scientists, farmers, water managers and others understand how much water will be available at any given time, which influences the key decisions they make about managing and using water supplies.

USDA currently measures soil moisture on a relatively small scale. Our Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) measures soil moisture and temperature, among other things, at over 150 sites in 39 States. The soil moisture data derived from SCAN is used by climate modelers, soil scientists, ecologists and farmers for a variety of purposes.

While the launch of the SMAP satellite is still two years away, now is the time to think about how the instrument can be developed to be most useful to Earth-bound stakeholders. The 2nd annual SMAP workshop, recently hosted by USDA in Washington, DC, was convened to brainstorm potential uses and applications for SMAP data.

The promise of the new SMAP satellite is that it will provide us with soil moisture information on a global scale. Beyond potential agricultural uses, the data derived from SMAP will have weather forecasting, disaster prediction and recovery and human health applications.

Find out more about the SMAP satellite.

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