Pilot program tests national soil moisture mapping capabilities

Pilot program tests national soil moisture mapping capabilities

Pilot program may pave way for national soil moisture monitoring network, USDA says

At the 2015 USDA Outlook Conference last month, Dr. Michael Strobel, director of USDA's National Water and Climate Center, outlined plans for a nationwide soil moisture monitoring system and the pilot system that will pave the way.

More complicated than recording soil moisture at fixed points and at regular intervals, the system Strobel outlined combines models and remote sensing, including satellite data, a USDA blog said.

Tom Jackson, shown here at a Soil Climate Analysis Network site in Huntsville, Ala., coordinates soil moisture networks as part of several satellite remote sensing programs. 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.

The regional pilot project is centered in North Texas and Oklahoma and encompasses the surrounding states and areas. Objectives include: Proving the concept of near-real time soil monitoring; demonstrating its usefulness and benefits to a broad range of users, including producers; and finding ways to best leverage the full variety of existing networks and modeling efforts.

Tools available include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's microwave and thermal infrared observations as well as NASA's recent launch of a soil moisture active/passive satellite.

University tools include the University of Arizona's Cosmic Ray-Soil Moisture Observing System and the Texas A&M North American Soil Moisture Database.

Strobel said the pilot is just beginning, but the hope is that a product can be ready by the end of the summer. Eventually, it could become part of a producer's "toolbox," USDA said.

A result from the National Soil Moisture Network will be for farmers and land owners to be able to access data on soil moisture related to their specific location from a home computer and get answers in real time.

That not only will help producers improve their practices to be more economical, but will also help improve soil health by providing another tool to support sound farm management, USDA said.

Read the full USDA blog entry on the project: Want to Know about Soil Moisture on your Farm? Soon, There May be an App for That

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