NASA launches SMAP satellite to map the Earth’s soil moisture distribution

A new satellite being launched into space will hopefully be able to identify better why the drought in the American West continues to rage onward as it has. Lasting for more than four years, scientists, meteorologists, and even residents wonder how much longer it could last – and when it could snap. That being said though, things don’t look like they’re improving anytime soon. California just came off its driest month of January in the history of the state, and as the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission begins, any information – will be positive information.

The satellite should sit roughly 400 miles above the Earth’s surface and it will be able to do something fairly impressive from that massive distance. Believe it or not, instruments on the ground that will be working in harmony with the satellite will measure just how wet the soil is, and finally measure just how bad the situation is. It will be able to identify the plants that are on the ground as well, and even be able to take measures of the atmosphere while it’s doing all of that on the ground, too. The entire mission will last three years, and will utilize microwaves and a number of other high-tech wave-like systems and measurements to understand what is happening – and possibly lend some additional information to the weather pattern that is doing significant and possibly irreversible damage to the West Coast of the United States.

This satellite though, won’t be predicting the next major storm, the team points out. In fact, this satellite won’t really be good for day-to-day weather reporting or forecasting. Instead, it will be good for understanding the more long-term patterns that develop and have developed. Interestingly though, this is information that hasn’t ever been had before, and that has some skeptical about what possible use this could have in the long-term. But Jeanine Jones of the California Department of Water Resources pointed out that the positive benefits of SMAP would be longstanding. “We don’t use this kind of data because it hasn’t been available before,” she said. “People may modify or develop new models to use that data. But that won’t be happening until the data has been out there for a while,” she concluded. The long-term future is what this is about. This is about understanding that the information that SMAP gives the science community as a whole will be a difference maker.