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New NASA satellite brings future to farmers

National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite could put farmers  one step closer to the future of farming.

In a perfect farming world, understanding the intricacies and dynamics between weather and soil moisture would provide invaluable insights into how, when and what to plant, when and how much water is required on any given day to maximize plant health and growth, and the added benefit of understanding the relation between climate change and weather phenomena like flooding and drought.

If the planned launch of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite goes as planned on Jan. 29 (2015), farmers will be one step closer to realizing that the future of farming has arrived.

The satellite is designed to produce the most accurate, highest resolution global maps ever obtained from space. But these maps don't stop by producing a simple picture of the ground. The satellite will be able to detect whether the ground is frozen or thawed, and can determine the exact level of moisture present in the first two inches of all the planet's soils.

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More importantly, by creating a global map of soil properties, scientists will be able to tell how soil moisture influences weather, giving forecasters a new and better tool to predict all types of weather before it happens and even to better map pending climate change on a global scale.

"With data from SMAP, scientists and decision makers around the world will be better equipped to understand how Earth works as a system and how soil moisture impacts a myriad of human activities, from floods and drought to weather and crop yield forecasts," said Christine Bonniksen, SMAP program executive with the Science Mission Directorate's Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "SMAP's global soil moisture measurements will provide a new capability to improve our understanding of Earth's climate."

Globally, the volume of soil moisture varies between 3 percent and 5 percent in desert and arid regions, to between 40 percent and 50 percent in saturated soils. In general, the amount depends on such factors as precipitation patterns, topography, vegetation cover and soil composition. There are not enough sensors in the ground to map the variability in global soil moisture at the level of detail needed by scientists and decision makers. From space, SMAP will produce global maps with 6-mile (10-kilometer) resolution every two to three days.


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