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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.


Photo Gallery

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Dr. Heather McNairn and Jarrett Powers members of the SMAPVEX12 field campaign in southern Manitoba.
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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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