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UPDATE: NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory

On January 31, 2015, NASA launched SMAP, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, to gather data for the next three years about the Earth’s water and soil moisture conditions.  Last week NASA announced that the SMAP “commission phase” is over and the data that was recorded is now being studied.  SMAP’s first global view is a combined active-passive soil moisture map with a spatial resolution of 5.6 miles.  (9 kilometers).  The high-resolution global soil moisture map was created using radar and radiometer instruments that gathered data between May 4 and May 11, 2015. Scientists will study how soil moisture conditions change, especially in response to climate and its impact on regional water availability. The SMAP data will be researched and compared to similar data gleaned from other NASA missions, such as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a 2002 project whose two orbiting satellites measure groundwater, among other data. Last September, 2014, the cover of Science Magazine featured an image retrieved from GRACE on its cover. The image, which went viral, is a topographical picture of California that shows trillions of gallons of groundwater loss due to massive overdrawing of aquifers. Scientists estimate that many of these aquifers that took millions of years to fill, will be totally depleted within decades.

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