Soil Moisture Mission Rockets into Next Phase

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Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

A new United States (U.S.) National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite now orbiting Earth will scan land surfaces for the next three years to detect moisture held in the topmost layer of soils. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists will use these soil moisture measurements to help improve our understanding of processes that affect weather and climate, and in turn, agricultural production.

On January 31, 2015, NASA launched the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite from California. This mission will produce the most accurate, highest-resolution global maps of soil moisture, temperature and freeze-thaw cycles ever obtained from space. The information will be particularly useful for the agriculture sector by helping to improve weather prediction and crop productivity models, monitoring areas affected by drought or excess moisture and improving flood forecasts.

"The SMAP satellite will become an important source of soil moisture data for Canada, and SMAP data will support agriculture across the country."

- Dr. Heather McNairn, Research Scientist, Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre, AAFC, Ottawa

The SMAP mission, headed by NASA, is a large-scale collaboration with scientists, governments and universities in both the United States and Canada. AAFC has been an important partner in developing this mission, along with Environment Canada, which is the lead federal department, and the Canadian Space Agency.

In 2012, an AAFC team from Ottawa and Winnipeg ran a large field campaign, or validation experiment, called SMAPVEX12.

"Soil and plant measurements we collected in the Portage La Prairie–Carman area of southern Manitoba were used to calibrate and validate SMAP processing models," says Jarrett Powers, Manager, Knowledge and Technology Transfer Office, AAFC, Winnipeg. "These data are now available to scientists worldwide."

For the duration of the SMAP mission – at least three years – AAFC will provide NASA with data from AAFC’s network of nine soil monitoring stations in Manitoba and five in Ontario installed at private farm sites. That information will be used to assess data coming from the satellite and test soil moisture mapping products.

AAFC is joining other organizations worldwide to celebrate the International Year of Soils 2015 and raise public awareness about the fundamental roles of soils in our daily lives. We are doing our part by leading research and development activities in agri-innovations to enhance both the economic and environmental sustainability of Canadian agriculture.


  • AAFC is working with NASA to develop new ways of observing subtle changes in our planet, like surface soil moisture, and their impacts on agriculture and the environment.
  • Maps from SMAP satellite data will help AAFC researchers monitor surface soil moisture conditions that affect agricultural production and update models used to predict crop yields.
  • The new information will help Canadian producers make informed farm-operation decisions based on changing weather, water and climate conditions.

Photo Gallery

Description of this image follows.
Dr. Heather McNairn and Jarrett Powers,
members of the SMAPVEX12 field campaign in
southern Manitoba.
Description of this image follows.
One of AAFC's soil monitoring stations located in the Carman–Elm Creek area of southern Manitoba.
Data from the station will be used by NASA to
calibrate information coming from the SMAP satellite.

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