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Posts tagged: NASA

USDA-NASA’s Global View of Earth’s Soil Holds Many Benefits

The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite aboard at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. SMAP will provide global measurements of soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state. Photo by NASA’s Kim Shiflett.

The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite aboard at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. SMAP will provide global measurements of soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state. Photo by NASA’s Kim Shiflett.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

When we think about space missions, we tend to look toward the stars to planets like Mars where robotic rovers roam, gathering data and sending it back to Earth. Rarely do we think about missions closer to home. But a view of Earth from 426 miles above is helping us monitor droughts, predict floods, improve weather forecasts and assist with crop productivity.

This year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a new satellite called SMAP (Soil Moisture Active-Passive) with the help of a team that included U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hydrologist Susan Moran at the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Southwest Watershed Research Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, and physical scientist Wade Crow and hydrologist Thomas Jackson at ARS’s Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. Read more »

A Year Round Fire Season?

A pine burns with snow on the ground on the Boise National Forest (Photo Credit: US Forest Service)

A pine burns with snow on the ground on the Boise National Forest (Photo Credit: US Forest Service)

There was a time when fire season for Western states meant only certain months out of the year. Not so long ago the U.S. Forest Service considered it primarily a summer problem with a few regions breaking the trend in early spring and late fall.

But climate change, according to most wildland fire experts, has turned fire season into a year-round issue.

What used to slow down fire season was winter—a long and cold time of year with lots of snow that killed off many invasive or destructive pests and filled rivers and reservoirs with ample water to supply the needs of millions living in the West. Read more »

Needing a Clearer Crystal Ball

Example of a within season crop condition map synthesizing information for corn, wheat, soybeans and rice from a combination of information from national and regional analysts and earth observation data. Map courtesy of GEOGLAM Crop Monitor, February 2015.

Example of a within season crop condition map synthesizing information for corn, wheat, soybeans and rice from a combination of information from national and regional analysts and earth observation data. Map courtesy of GEOGLAM Crop Monitor, February 2015.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

If you think the local weather forecaster has trouble predicting if it will rain tomorrow, imagine how hard it is to forecast crop production world-wide.

If there is too little rain in Brazil in August, it could delay planting of the country’s summer maize crop and subsequently diminish that harvest. If the decrease is big enough, it could possibly have implications for international commodity prices and might even impact global food security. This in turn can translate into the need for policy makers to respond to economic and trade issues and problems in countries where food insecurity is a persistent threat. Read more »

How USDA’s Snow Survey Program Got Started

James E. Church pictured in 1920. Courtesy of University of Reno, Nevada.

James E. Church pictured in 1920. Courtesy of University of Reno, Nevada.

James E. Church was a man who answered his calling. Like a real-life Indiana Jones, Professor Church pursued adventure around the world, ending a war and helping to found the Snow Survey Program on the way. Every hero needs a cause; Church found his in snow.

Born in Michigan in 1869, Church moved west in 1901 to teach classics and art history at the University of Nevada, Reno. The nearby Sierra Nevada fascinated him. He hiked there often, publishing his mountaineering accounts in the Sierra Club newsletter. Read more »

Want to Know about Soil Moisture on your Farm? Soon, There May be an App for That

Tom Jackson, shown here at a Soil Climate Analysis Network site in Huntsville, Alabama coordinates in situ soil moisture networks as part of several satellite remote sensing programs, including the recently launched Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Mission.  Dr. Jackson is currently stationed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California helping the SMAP Science Team produce a calibrated and validated global soil moisture product. USDA ARS Photo.

Tom Jackson, shown here at a Soil Climate Analysis Network site in Huntsville, Alabama coordinates in situ soil moisture networks as part of several satellite remote sensing programs, including the recently launched Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Mission. Dr. Jackson is currently stationed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California helping the SMAP Science Team produce a calibrated and validated global soil moisture product. USDA ARS Photo.

“Probably it is one of the most innovative interagency tools on the planet.”  So said Dr. Roger Pulwarty, Director of the National Integrated Drought Information System (of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, located in Boulder, CO), in describing the development of a coordinated National Soil Moisture Network.

Americans hear the words “drought” and “flood” quite often, but a key factor in determining drought or flood potential, crop yield, water supply, hydrology or climate change impacts is soil moisture.  At the Ag Outlook Forum, held recently in suburban Washington, D.C., Dr. Michael Strobel, director of USDA’s National Water and Climate Center (part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service) outlined plans for a nation-wide soil moisture monitoring system and the pilot system that will pave the way. Read more »

Exploration and Agriculture: Connecting the Next Generation with Science to Grow the Future

Deputy Secretary Harden and 4-H'ers observe plant growing experiments at the NASA Space Life Science Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Deputy Secretary Harden and 4-H'ers observe plant growing experiments at the NASA Space Life Science Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Last week, we entered a bold new era of exploration and discovery as NASA launched the Orion spacecraft, a major step testing the possibility of going to Mars.

As NASA contemplates sending human missions to Mars, one question we must answer is: what will the astronauts eat and what foods will assist future missions? NASA and USDA are working together to develop plants that can grow, thrive, and produce in new environments – signaling opportunities for fresh, nutrition-rich food for astronauts on long duration space flights. Read more »