USDA, NASA expand wildfire, drought partnership

Agreement will expand cooperation on space-borne remote sensing efforts to gather soil moisture data.

Agriculture deputy secretary Krysta Harden and National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) deputy administrator Dava Newman announced an expanded partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NASA designed to better predict and prevent natural disasters, and inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and agriculture.

"Space is a unique laboratory that can be a gateway to solving some of the greatest agricultural challenges of our time," Harden said. "This partnership is a powerful opportunity for USDA and NASA to yield new tools and techniques to help farmers and ranchers as they deal with the ongoing impacts of climate change and drought."

"There are many areas where NASA and USDA have overlapping interests," Newman added. "We can now better coordinate and build on the resources of both NASA and USDA to help learn more about our planet's vital resources and inspire the next generation to become better stewards of our planet."

Among other things, the agreement will expand cooperation on space-borne remote sensing efforts to gather soil moisture data. One potential outcome of the expanded partnership between USDA and NASA could be using satellite data to create a series of soil moisture maps for California that could be used to improve weather and water availability forecasting and provide a drought early-warning system to producers, particularly in California.

Under the new agreement, USDA now has expanded access to data from NASA satellites that will help Forest Service fire fighters and first responders better detect wildfires and predict their behavior. USDA and the Department of the Interior have spent nearly $1.5 billion annually over the past decade on wildfire suppression, but this new technology has the potential to stop wildfires before they start, saving money, land and lives, the announcement said.

Harden and Newman were at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Cal., to sign a memorandum of understanding formalizing the expanded collaboration between USDA and NASA.

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