This summer, University of Manitoba researchers are looking to the skies over our province as part of a global experiment to test methods for monitoring soil moisture from satellite information.
From June 7 to July 17, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will fly two piloted aircraft several times a week over an area of mixed agricultural and forested land from Portage La Prairie to Carman in south-central Manitoba. These aircraft will carry instruments similar to those onboard a satellite that NASA will launch in 2014.
Once in space, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite will measure surface soil moisture and temperature that will be used to produce maps of global soil moisture, temperature and freeze/thaw states on a regular basis. These maps will help researchers monitor surface soil moisture conditions that impact 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.
During the field campaign, a validation experiment called SMAPVEX, scientists will be calibrating the models that will be used to estimate soil moisture from the satellite. To do this, scientists will be taking measurements on the ground for soil moisture and temperature, plant biomass and surface roughness. More detailed information about the plant canopy, such as plant spectral properties and leaf area index, will also be collected. These traits indicate plant growth and yield potential by measuring leaf development and the amount of light intercepted by plant leaves.
In addition to the collection of field data, 50 temporary soil moisture monitoring stations will be installed to provide continuous measurements over the six weeks of SMAPVEX. From the University of Manitoba, researchers Rotimi Ojo, Brian Miller and summer students Stacie Westervelt and Alan Rich are installing continuous monitoring stations, collecting field observations and laboratory measurements during the campaign. They have already completed an extensive set of instrument preparations in readiness for the start of the campaign. This work will underpin the graduate research projects for both Ojo and Miller.
“This project provides an excellent opportunity for University of Manitoba students to work with a unique dataset and collaborate with leading international scientists from both agricultural and remote sensing disciplines,” says Paul Bullock, the research team advisor in soil science at the University of Manitoba.
To date, 70 field and aircraft crew are expected to be in the field during SMAPVEX. Dozens of producers in the Portage La Prairie-Carman area have granted access to their fields for the purpose of data collection. This will be critical to the success of the project, and ultimately to the success of the satellite mission.
Bullock notes: “Manitoba was chosen for this project for many reasons. Of paramount importance is the extreme variability in soil moisture that typifies the Red River Watershed - from drought to flood conditions. The Manitoba site also has a range of crop types (both annual and perennial), land cover (farmland, wetland and forest land) and soil texture. As well, the new research effort will build on other well-established projects looking into soil moisture and existing collaborations with area farmers.”
SMAP is expected to become an important source of soil moisture data for Canada.
For more information, please contact Paul Bullock, soil science, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, at: 204-474-8666, or email: Paul_Bullock@umanitoba.ca
SMAPVEX is a large collaborative effort between the United States and Canada.
The team members include NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture, California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, University of California at Irvine, University of Southern Carolina, Texas A&M University, University of Washington, Ohio State University, University of Florida, University of Montana, Florida International University, Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Colorado in addition to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada, University of Guelph, University of Manitoba, University of Sherbrooke, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives and the Canadian Space Agency, which is providing financial support to the Canadian participants.
The science objectives of the SMAP mission are to map soil moisture and freeze/thaw states from space to
• understand processes that link the water, energy and carbon cycles
• estimate global water and energy fluxes at the land surface
• quantify net carbon flux in boreal landscapes
• enhance weather and climate forecast skill
• develop improved flood prediction and drought monitoring capabilities.
For more information, please visit the SMAP Web site at: http://smap.jpl.nasa.gov/