LOMPOC, CALIF. (CBSLA.com) — Minutes before the sun dawned on the coast of central California on Saturday, NASA looked to the skies, and launched a critical part of its Earth Sciences mission into Low-Earth Orbit.
As floods make their way through parts of the country, and as a historic drought continues to punish the farmlands, rivers, and resources of California, scientists will now be able to more accurately observe and monitor moisture levels within the land itself, through an orbiting observatory named SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive).
Similar to the OCO-2 observatory, which launched from the same launch pad back in July of 2014, and which now monitors carbon cycles around the globe, SMAP’s mission is to better understand water cycles between the land and atmosphere.
“We’re looking across the whole United States,” SMAP Program Scientist Jared Entin told social media users invited by NASA. “We’re looking across all of North America, all over the world, trying to look at these soil moisture patterns and see how they effect weather regimes, ultimately climate, and we’re really looking at the big picture.”
SMAP marks the fifth satellite launched by NASA since February 2014 with the goal of monitoring our planet’s reaction and response to changes, both natural and human-induced.
The advantages of this knowledge are as vast as they are essential.
In addition to more accurate weather forecasts, meteorologists and other scientists will have the ability to better predict natural hazards, such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires and drought.
As the agricultural community of California found out over the past year and a half, if the state found itself in a position to be able to plan more accurately ahead of time for such an event, a great amount of money and grief may be saved.
“…SMAP is not going to create water magically to solve all the problems; I wish it could, it wont,” Entin said. “But, it is going to give people more information. For those of us who came from the East coast, you saw that two days before the blizzard, people knew, and they were able to prepare. And with SMAP and other observations, we’re trying to give the farmers as much information as we can about what’s coming now, what can you plan for.”
The initiative of studying soil moisture is not exclusive to the minds of NASA scientists, but to researchers from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
USDA research scientist Dr. Wade Crow says that, even in years in which agricultural production increases, evidence exists that suggests that we are becoming more susceptible to the impacts of droughts and other agricultural shocks.
What is the benefit of NASA’s soil mapping satellite?