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New Satellite Tracks Climate Change & Soil Moisture

On January 31, 2015, NASA sent into orbit a satellite to measure how much water is in the top two inches of the earth’s soil. For the next three years, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, will gather soil moisture data that will help monitor global climate change and aid in weather predictions. Preliminary information is expected within nine months; validated data will be released in 15 months. The earth’s oceans and ice hold 97 percent of its water; less than one percent of the planet’s water is in the soil. Soil moisture measurements from the entire surface of the earth will inform us about upcoming crop yields, essential information to warn of upcoming famines. SMAP will let us know if the ground is frozen or thawed, which can both impact the growing season and indicate how much carbon plants are removing from the atmosphere every year. Ultimately the information gathered by SMAP will reveal the climate change impact on the earth’s water cycle. The satellite’s orbit is 426 miles (685 km) above the earth, reaching pole to pole every 98.5 minutes. It retrieves data from a 620-mile expanse and will update soil moisture measurements every two to three days.  Aboard SMAP are instruments that capture high resolution imagery of the top two inches of soil, producing the most accurate soil moisture maps to date.

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