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45786

Agriculture From Space – Water Storage Capacity Of The Nation’s Soils

The maps above show the relationship between soil type and the volume of available water storage. The maps are based on a dataset of soil characteristics for the United States, or “CONUS-Soil,” developed by Douglas Miller and Richard White of Pennsylvania State University.

“Some of the neatest things that I think CONUS-Soil shows are large-scale features in the landscape,” Miller said. “One of the most striking of these is the Nebraska Sand Hills.” The composition maps show this part of Nebraska to have a high percentage of sand, little silt  and little clay. According to Miller, these ancient sand dunes are now covered with vegetation and stabilized. Due in part to the high sand content, water in this area is a precious resource—evident in the map as a broad area where the available water storage is low (light blue).

Minnesota, on the other hand, has a unique, variable landscape affected by past glaciation. Informally called the “land of 10,000 lakes,” the state’s numerous wetlands have high clay content that more easily retains water. “But glaciers tend to leave a landscape that has high variability,” Miller said, “hence the pattern that you see in the maps.”

Another interesting feature shows up around Toledo, Ohio, and Lake Michigan. The area once known as the Great Black Swamp was drained by settlers in the mid 1800s. “If you return to that area today, however, you would discover that the soils still tend to hold water,” Miller said. “In order to keep farming the area, the soils must be continuously drained.”

You can access similar maps as well as photography taken from satellites and the Space Station by going to NASA’s web site: earthobservatory.nasa.gov.

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