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Soil Moisture Maps at Your Fingertips: Government and Industry Collaborate on New Satellite-Based Application

A new user-friendly application called the Soil Moisture Toolkit offers researchers, policymakers and laypeople alike near real-time information about soil moisture for Canadian agriculture.

Together, the federal government and industry have developed a space-based radar tool to monitor and manage emerging flood or drought situations on agricultural lands. The Soil Moisture Toolkit allows for near real-time production of high-resolution soil moisture maps, using data collected by Canada’s RADARSAT-2 satellite.

An Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) science team developed the soil moisture methodology on which the toolkit is based. Array Systems Computing Inc., a Canadian company with expertise in radar and remote sensing, was contracted by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) through its Earth Observation Applications Development Program (EOADP) to package the AAFC models into software that is freely available as part of the RADARSAT-2 Toolbox (RSTB). The RSTB is an open source toolbox designed to process, visualize and analyze all manner of products for RADARSAT-2.

"Bringing the new Soil Moisture Toolkit from research and development to operational technology was no easy task," said Dr. Heather McNairn, AAFC team lead. "This effort represents over 10 years of hard work by a team of soil moisture scientists dedicated to modeling, programming, data processing, field work, data validation and testing."

The Soil Moisture Toolkit marks a significant step forward in the way people create geo-temporal maps. Once users have the raw satellite radar images in hand, the software will generate a map of surface soil moisture from the data in about 10 minutes.

This latest project with CSA, Array and AAFC expands the utilization of RADARSAT-2 to produce high-quality data products for more research and new applications in the agricultural sector.

AAFC has been acquiring RADARSAT-2 data over a region of southern Manitoba to demonstrate how the satellite, along with the Soil Moisture Toolkit, can produce a time series of soil moisture conditions. This demonstration will set the stage for ongoing soil moisture monitoring of Canada’s agricultural regions using RADARSAT-2 and the next generation RADARSAT Constellation, which CSA plans to launch in 2018.

The high-quality maps produced by the new Soil Moisture Toolkit will allow AAFC to focus on regions of concern and provide information about emerging deficit or excess moisture conditions to enable proactive management decisions by farmers. The same technology could be used to estimate and verify the extent and severity of impact after adverse weather events.

Development of the Soil Moisture Toolkit was made possible by funding from AAFC under its four-year Sustainable Agriculture Environmental Systems (SAGES) initiative, which ended March 2013, as well as the current Growing Forward 2 Agriculture Policy Framework and CSA contributions.

For more information or to set up an interview:

Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Ottawa, ON

Media Relations
Canadian Space Agency
Saint-Hubert, QC

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