NASA’s Earth satellite observing systems are helping the
U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service
(FAS) improve the accuracy and timeliness of information they
provide about important crops around the world. FAS information
is crucial in decisions affecting U.S. agriculture, trade
policy, and food aid.

NASA and the University of Maryland are providing the FAS with
observations and data products from instruments on NASA’s Aqua
and Terra satellites and from the TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason and
Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellites. FAS
analysts are using these products to regularly assess global
agricultural conditions.

“The partnership between NASA and FAS is an example of how we
extend the benefits of Earth science missions to meet the needs
of our operational partners,” said Ed Sheffner of NASA’s Earth
Science Enterprise.

NASA provides daily, high-quality, observations of the Earth.
The timeliness and quality of these science data products are
used to support decision support tools employed by FAS to
assess crop productivity over large areas of the world. NASA
products allow FAS analysts to distinguish between different
crops such as wheat and rice and permit analysts to measure
other features like surface temperature and snow cover.
Analysts can gauge the health of agriculture by comparing
recent and historic data. NASA satellites collect data twice
daily, Terra in the morning and Aqua in the afternoon.

Frequent satellite observations are important so analysts can
assess how natural disasters such as fires, volcanic eruptions,
floods, storms, or even extreme temperatures, affect crops. The
information is often crucial to international food aid
organizations. Earth Science products quickly demonstrated
their utility as they helped analysts identify and monitor new
areas of irrigated agriculture in the Middle East.

NASA’s Rapid Response System processes and delivers
observations to FAS usually less than four hours after it is
collected. Scientists at the University of Maryland are
creating an archive and an interface that enables analysts to
compare current and historical conditions.

Altimetry data from the TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason satellites are
used to monitor the water level of 100 lakes and reservoirs
around the world. Innovative use of these data to measure lake
and reservoir water levels in an operational manner has proven
valuable. The information allows FAS analysts monitor the
duration of droughts, assess how much water is available for
irrigated farmland in arid regions and, as a result, how much
of a crop the region is able to produce.

The TRMM satellite provides near real-time observations about
precipitation for mid-latitudes. Rainfall has a large impact on
both rain-fed and irrigated crops. TRMM data helps analysts
gauge planting and growing conditions and predict the size of
the harvest with greater reliability.

Applications of NASA’s Earth Science research enable the use of
observations, measurements and models to improve agency
partners’ decision-making capabilities. FAS has benefited from
incorporating products from Earth observation systems into
operational procedures.

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