NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive Mission


These engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, California are assembling the satellite for an exciting new Earth science
mission, set to launch in November 2014. The SMAP, or Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite,
is an environmental research satellite, equipped with state-of-the-art instruments for taking
soil moisture and freeze/thaw measurements all over the globe. The satellite combines
two key instruments: an active radar and a passive radiometer, which can provide high
resolution, accurate measurements at a frequency and scale never before possible. Right now, what people are using is a few
sparse measurements of soil moisture at a few, relatively small number of areas over
the Earth. And then, they apply those measurements to models that infer what the soil moisture
is on a global level. What SMAP will do is replace that with a much more accurate, direct
measurement of soil moisture over the Earth. In addition to their scientific value, these
data will be immensely valuable for a number of applications from weather forecasting to
disease control, and the scientists behind SMAP have been working with end-users throughout
the mission to ensure that the data will be suited towards their needs and easily assimilated
into their operations. SMAP has a really rich heritage. It goes back
over 15 years. It started as Hydros and developed into the SMAP mission. So, it builds up this
really great community of people that have an interest in using soil moisture data. That
community is known as the Applications Working Group and from that community we grew what
is known to be the Early Adopters. We identified 25 Early Adopters. I say 25,
but it is continuing to grow. We’ll probably have 30, or maybe 40, by the time we launch.
These Early Adopters are using their own resources to prepare for the launch because they understand
that soil moisture and freeze/thaw information is going to be important for their decision
making. The Early Adopter Program was meant to capture
the most dynamic, focused and motivated of all the institutions we have engaged with
through the Applications Program, to get them to use satellite data as early as possible. What we ask them to do is also provide some
feedback. What was the rate of success in whatever they were forecasting, predicting
or monitoring , before and after the availability of SMAP data? We want to see that difference,
in order to bring it back to the Project to do the data product generation even better. This video tells the stories of the SMAP Early
Adopters. This diverse group of businesses, government agencies, and organizations represent
the end-users for SMAP data, and their collaboration on the SMAP mission ensures the integration
of these data into operations that affect our day-to-day lives. I’m Michael Ek. I’m the Land Hydrology Team
Leader at the Environmental Modeling Center. We’re part of NCEP, the National Centers for
Environmental Prediction. They have a number of Centers of which EMC is part. There is
also the Weather Prediction Center, Hurricane Center, Severe Storm Center. We provide national
guidance for the rest of the weather service and NOAA with environmental prediction. Weather
models definitely need a very good initial condition because if you don’t have a good
initial condition, you are starting from the wrong place. So, SMAP and other remote sensing
products, and other data sets that we use that are on the ground, for example, help
us to better characterize, or better describe, what that initial condition of the surface
is. So, is it frozen or not? Exactly what is the soil moisture? We worry about other
things like, is there vegetation? How green is it? There is a number of conditions of
the surface that we need to know. And soil moisture is probably one of the most important. Essentially, as our weather and climate models
are going to higher resolution, we want to be able to match that resolution with the
input data that we get from the remote sensing. AER is an atmospheric and environmental research
company. We do research related to everything to do with the Earth system and monitoring
the Earth system. So, oceanography, land surface processes, the atmosphere, clouds, and even
the space environment. We’re interested in SMAP for a number of reasons. The foremost
for me is its capabilities for providing information for models of terrestrial ecosystems that
analyze methane emission and its contribution to greenhouse gases. The other reason we are
interested in SMAP data is for mapping of large flood events. SMAP is going to have
a capability to resolve more details in flood events at a more timely manner. This is important
for disaster management, for understanding where aid might be needed, and where resources
can best be utilized. What is most exciting about SMAP is that it is happening. We have
been talking about – in the soil moisture community and the hydrologic community — a
sensor like this for my entire career and probably before that, so back to the mid-80s.
This will finally give us insight into a problem that, up until now, we have only been able
to get at from less capable means. The National Drought Mitigation Center is
a unique center in that we are the only group in the United States that focuses completely
on drought monitoring, drought early warning, drought planning. We have a variable group
of scientists and staff that work on this mission continually and it has evolved over
the years. The group started about 20 years ago now, and we have definitely evolved over
time into the mission that we focus on reducing drought risk across the country. Soil moisture is really a critical component
in understanding drought and where it is developing, how severe it is. Traditionally, soil moisture
information has been acquired through ground-based measurements or probes in the soil which are
few and far between. So, we are interested in SMAP to give us more detailed information
on soil moisture variations across large areas, and really fill in the gaps between where
the sensors are in the ground, to give us a more detailed spatial view of how things
are changing in the soil over time. As we get these data at a higher resolution,
covering the entire country, we are going to do our jobs better. When you see the drought
monitor map coming out each week, we are going to have more confidence in some of the inputs
that we are looking at, especially with regards to soil moisture. They are going to be of
a higher level and of a greater quality, and more utility than anything we have had up
to this point. The Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab is one of seven labs that belong to the Engineering Research and Development Center. It is a collection
of labs owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers. We became involved with SMAP because we have
always been interested in ways to remotely get soil moisture information in areas that
we are not allowed to go. SMAP is one of the first new sensors that
provides us a strong leap into the future to be able to more accurately and more precisely
measure soil moisture. That soil moisture is real critical for military mission planners.
When you are talking about soil moisture, you are talking about mobility or you are
talking about water security. The ability to measure that soil moisture from space is
very important for military planners. The Army always has to get people and things
from one place to the next. And if they have multiple routes to choose from, the soil strength
— based on the soil moisture which is provided by SMAP — will say this route is better because
it’s stronger soil. So, you can get more things over in a given amount of time. It is fascinating being on a much larger team
and working with these applications to show how critical satellite data is to our weather
analysis and our climate prediction systems that we all work with. At Storm Center, we work with different agencies
and organizations that monitor the environment, climate change, and natural disasters and
hazards. What we do is we help integrate products from Earth observation into decision making.
We have developed products that are currently being used by emergency management and by
US agencies to deliver impact-based decision support services, and we expect to be able
to integrate SMAP data within this stream of data products that are being delivered
to these emergency managers and other agencies. A lot of the data that is currently available
is either at a very low resolution or is not readily available when our decision makers
need it. And we are expecting SMAP to be able to fill in those gaps, to actually make that
data available when it is necessary to take those decisions. SMAP data will be one more
tool in the toolbox that decision makers and emergency managers have across the nation.
It will enable them to take better decisions when it comes to figuring out what impacts
soil moisture will have on their operations. My name is Kyle McDonald. I’m a professor
of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the City College of New York. I work with the NOAA
CREST Institute at City College and also the Environmental Crossroads Initiative. The New
York City Department of Environmental Protection is interested in using the information content
from the SMAP data products to inform them with new information on the integrity of their
watershed for supplying New York City potable water. As SMAP Early Adopters, we are working
with them to assist them to be ready to integrate SMAP information into their assessment schemes
for looking at the quality and amount of water that is available to the City of New York.
It is a very new and exciting application for remote sensing science because we will
be able to use this new dataset that will be routinely available from space orbit as
a new information source to hopefully get an improved understanding of the issues that
face providing water supply to growing populations. NASS is the data collection arm of the USDA.
We are the National Agricultural Statistical Service. We collect agriculture related statistical
data and provide it to the general public. We are looking at the SMAP mission to help
us define when the growing season begins, looking at the freeze/thaw cycles, using the
rapid repeat cycles that the satellite will provide us, and giving us more objective scientific
readings than we can currently get from our ground-based enumerators which number about
4000. Potentially, this could be a really big cost saving measure for our organization.
We’re very excited about the improved objectivity and scientific basis that this SMAP mission
will provide our organization. It will improve our agricultural statistics monitoring capabilities
and give us better methods and means of delivering our message, or our scientific information,
to the public. The IRI is a research institute hosted by
Columbia University that seeks to help society understand, anticipate, and manage the impacts
of climate variability, particularly in the developing world. Efforts to help rural populations
cope with the impacts of things like drought and floods requires the ability to anticipate
those impacts. We are trying to test the utility of SMAP
soil moisture products to improve the prediction of crop yields. If we have better soil moisture
data, then we can correct better our models. Hence, the expectation is that you will have
a better estimate of your yield. SMAP provides a great deal of promise for
improving the accuracy and potentially the lead time of model-based forecasts of food
crop production for food security, early warning and management. Our hope is that this will
allow food security response organizations to anticipate and act on the threat of food
insecurity driven by things like drought much earlier in a way that will protect not only
the lives, but the livelihoods, of rural populations that are vulnerable to the impacts of drought
and floods. The SMAP Early Adopters featured in this video
represent only a portion of the full Early Adopter Program. But these organizations,
dedicated to pushing the limits of technology, represent a major step forward in the widespread
implementation of satellite data, and will continue to be an integral part of future
NASA missions for many years to come. Early Adopters are going to play a significant
role in our NASA missions. They have already shown that they provide significant feedback
to NASA, and I think that they get a lot of good value out of participating as Early Adopters.
Each mission is unique and so how the Early Adopter Programs will be formed, and the types
of Early Adopters, will always be different. But I think Early Adopters are really something
that is going to stay in the NASA missions.

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