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HOW DOES SMAP SOIL MOISTURE DATA HELP US UNDERSTAND AND PREDICTS FLOODS AND DROUGHTS?


There are many application for SMAP soil moisture satellite data.

Understanding drought risk is vital to the health of the planet and to the lives of potentially billions of people around the world. Soil moisture strongly affects plant growth and hence agricultural productivity, especially during conditions of water shortage and drought. Currently, there is no global in situ network for soil moisture monitoring. Global estimates of soil moisture and plant water stress must be derived from models. These model predictions (and hence drought monitoring) can be greatly enhanced through assimilation of space-based soil moisture observations. Improvements in the ability to monitor and forecast agricultural drought (i.e., the lack of root-zone soil moisture) will improve famine early warning in the most food-insecure countries in the world. Soil moisture information can be used to predict wildfires, determine prescribed burning conditions, and estimate smoldering combustion potential of organic soils. Improvements in wildfire information with SMAP soil moisture products can provide more useful and accurate data on toxic air-quality events and smoke white-outs (thus increasing transportation safety) and can inform prescribed fire activities (increasing efficiency).

On the flip-side, SMAP soil moisture data can be used in understanding areas at flood risk. But knowing the amount of water in the soil, we can know just where flooding will be a major concern. Local agencies can use this information to prepare and warn its residents. High-resolution observations of soil moisture and landscape freeze/thaw status will lead to improved flood forecasts, especially for intermediate to large watersheds where most flood damage occurs. Surface soil moisture state is key to the partitioning of precipitation into infiltration and runoff, and thus is one of the major pieces of information which drives flood prediction modeling. Similarly, soil moisture in mountainous areas is one of the most important determinants of landslides. In cold land regions, the timing of thawing (which can be derived from satellite radar measurements) is coincident with the onset of seasonal snowmelt, soil thaw, and ice breakup on large rivers and lakes. Hydrologic forecast systems initialized with mapped high-resolution soil moisture and freeze/thaw fields will therefore open up new capabilities in operational flood forecasting and flash flood analysis. In turn, this will improve the response of government agencies and emergency managers to a full range of emergencies and disasters, and potentially provide insurance brokers with an up-to-date indicator of the likelihood of flooding, landslides, droughts, and wildfires in risk models related to business decisions.

One example of this is last October's major floods throughout North and South Carolina on the east coast of the United States. SMAP was able to see areas of potential flooding prior to the event and able to see the extent of flooding, by looking at the soil moisture. Please click HERE to read the full story.

Devastating Carolina Floods Viewed by NASA's SMAP

Image showing SMAP soil map of the Carolina flooding event

 

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