Guest Blog by NASA SMAP Scientists Dr. Erika Podest and Dr. Narendra Das of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California USA.
SMAP scientists are using soil moisture in a number of ways, ways that allow all of us to better understand water’s role on Earth:
Weather Prediction: Water in the soil has the potential to evaporate (depending on atmospheric temperature and pressure) and when it does it plays a large role in cloud formation. Soil moisture also has a modulating effect on air temperature and humidity therefore having the ability to measure soil moisture continuously and accurately allows scientists to better predict weather.
Drought: Plants need water to grow and can become stressed during water shortages or drought. SMAP allows scientists to determine if a drought is coming on, the extent of an area under drought and if that area is intensifying, growing or shrinking. This is especially critical to determine whether crops will be affected by drought.
Floods: Soil moisture is a key variable in water related hazards like floods and landslides. If, for example, SMAP indicates that the soils in a certain area are near saturation and in addition, precipitation forecasts indicate heavy rains, then scientists can predict risk of flooding for that area. Similarly, soil moisture in mountainous areas is one of the most important determinants for landslides.
Agricultural Productivity: Crop yields are, in part, dependent on the amount of water in the soil. The availability of soil moisture and its timing and extent allows scientists to determine if the crops are water stressed and helps generate assessments of crop yield.
Human Health: Soil moisture is an important condition for mosquito breeding habitats. Therefore, precisely knowing soil moisture through SMAP helps scientists better predict areas likely to be mosquito-breeding habitats. This is helpful especially in areas where mosquitoes can carry diseases such as malaria or yellow fever.
Learn more about how SMAP scientists use the SMAP satellite soil moisture data HERE!