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Agriculture From Space - Soil Moisture Revelation

The map above shows the amount of moisture in the top 2 inches of the ground across the U.S. It was produced with data collected in May 2015 with radar and radiometer instruments on NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. 

Colors show the volume of water contained in a volume of soil. Dark green and blue areas are progressively wetter, up to a ratio of about 0.5. At that point, the ground is considered saturated. 

“What we really want is soil moisture information that can be used to understand how plants are growing and what’s going on in the atmosphere right now,” says Susan Moran, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and chair of the SMAP Applications Working Group. “We have to get soil moisture information to the agriculture community, and the only way to do that is from satellites.”

Through recent satellite missions, Moran and colleagues have been learning more about how soil moisture affects plant growth and agricultural productivity, especially during conditions of water shortage and drought. 

“Data from SMAP will make a giant difference for my work,” Moran says. “We have already looked at five years of data from the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission. Add SMAP onto that, and we begin to get a good time series of global soil moisture to help us figure out where vegetation has a high risk of mortality.”

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