Washington, April 25 : The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to launch the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite this fall, which would help to provide more information about the amount of moisture in the ground in the United States and around the world. Soil moisture is important because, among other things, it directly affects weather and climate.
Currently, weather forecasting models do not include real-time measurements of soil moisture content as part of their programs.
According to Brian Hornbuckle from ISU, once scientists can better measure soil moisture, especially over large land masses such as North America, this missing piece can be included in weather prediction models, making for more complete and more accurate predictions.
As part of the project, the ESA will take satellite readings of soil moisture from SMOS and compare them with the actual readings from Hornbuckle's land-based team, which is helping them in the project.
That will give the Europeans information on the accuracy of their satellite readings.
Hornbuckle's land-based soil moisture-measuring techniques involve placing monitors in the ground in various locations around a farm field. These monitors electronically send soil moisture data to computers at the University of Iowa and the National Soil Tilth Laboratory.
When they compare what their satellite said with Hornbuckle's actual readings, ESA researchers will then adjust the numerical models they are using to relate the satellite measurements to soil moisture.
According to Hornbuckle, the arrangement is good for both ISU and ESA.
"Our deal with the European Space Agency is that they give us data that they collect from their satellite for free," he said. "In exchange, we'll share our data on the ground and also advise them on how their satellite is performing when it passes over Iowa," he added.
According to Amy Kaleita, an assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering, if we can understand moisture behavior in certain areas, then we can start to understand some of the variability in crop yields.
Eventually, Kaleita thinks the information collected through moisture satellites may be useful for precision farming.