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Challenge: Improve USDA Foreign Agricultural Service commodity crop forecasts by integrating NASA soil moisture remote sensing products and land surface modeling/assimilation tools into the operational USDA FAS global water balance modeling system. Soil moisture provides an early indication of vegetation change.

Need: The USDA FAS currently applies a ‘convergence of evidence' approach for estimating future global crop yields that are based on secondary estimates or modeled soil msoiture.

Opportunity: The NASA SMAP mission launched in January, 2015 and could potentially reduce the uncertainty of the SMOS-based global soil moisture product operationally being applied by the USDA FAS

Geographic Focus


Principal Investigator

John D. Bolten (NASA GSFC),

Project Team

Iliana Mladenova (University of Maryland)
Wade Crow (USDA HRSL)
Curt Reynolds (USDA FAS)
Jerry Zhan (NOAA NESDIS)

Collaborators & Stakeholders


Technical Summary

Resulting from this NASA Applied Sciences Program-supported project, the USDA FAS is implementing enhanced surface and root-zone soil moisture products in order to yield improvements in their crop forecasting system. The application of satellite-based soil moisture estimates (previously from the EOS Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) and now from SMOS) into the FAS soil moisture model provides significant improvements to vegetation forecasting skill in several areas of the world, particularly areas lacking adequate rain gauge coverage (e.g. southern Africa) required to characterize rainfall inputs into a soil water balance model. Since the move to operations in Spring of 2014, the USDA FAS has demonstrated improvements in their crop monitoring and forecasting ability after applying the new satellite-based product, particularly in sparsely-instrumented countries with moderate-to-severe food security issues. The system is now being adapted to integrate future observations from the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission which is expected to launch in January, 2015 and provide global soil moisture observations at enhanced spatial resolutions and accuracy. Operational delivery of the SMOS-based soil moisture product will continue until the transition to SMAP data in mid-2015. As a SMAP ‘Early Adopter’, the project team has prepared a prototype system that is analogous to future SMAP data and have demonstrated the improved soil moisture monitoring potential that is expected from the SMAP-based soil moisture data assimilation system.

Additional Information

Data is available on USDA FAS Crop Explorer

Animations of Sample products and GPM showing 'precipitation memory'

Related Research Areas                                            

Climate impacts on water resources, Drought impact monitoring, forecasting, and mitigation.