Remote Sensing Satellite Data Provides One Piece of the Puzzle

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Remote Sensing Satellite Data Provides One Piece of the Puzzle
By Susan Smith

So much good geospatial work goes on in the trenches, among people who are relying largely on volunteers and as a result, are not able to get important projects operational or data out for public consumption. With all our reporting of great products and programs being developed, there are still some that are not getting off the ground, so to speak, because of a lack of funding.

Lack of funding is a whole topic by itself, but suffice it to say that it has widespread ramifications in the geospatial field where a lot of data resides in places where it can’t be accessed or is under utilized.

Max Bleiweiss and Joleen Atencio, a recent MS graduate from NMSU.
Max Bleiweiss and Joleen Atencio, a recent MS graduate from NMSU.
A case in point is the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Center for Applied Remote Sensing in Agriculture, Meteorology, and Environment (CARSAME) program. A cooperate effort between NMSU; U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) at White Sands Missile Range; Directorate of Environment, U.S. Army, Fort Bliss, El Paso, TX; and the NASA New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, this program got its start in 1996 when Max Bleiweiss, now an adjunct professor at NMSU, was at White Sands Missile Range working with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL). Bleiweiss was in charge of determining what kinds of products could be derived from meteorological satellites that the army could use. The group Bleiweiss worked with was responsible for fielding the meteorological forecast capability with the army. When the army no longer wanted to explore this project, they donated all the equipment to NMSU.

“Towards that end, I thought that if I were to share my data with the university, then maybe I could get the university to help do the research to determine what kind of products would be useful,” Bleiweiss explained. “So we started down a long road of establishing a remote sensing center, processing the data, moving it to the university, and archiving it. We have used some of it in some research but to this date, none of it is in a operational real time support mode.”

Currently in the mode of archiving data, the Center has not been able to gain sufficient funding to bring itself to a fully operational status. Students are helping maintain the data archives, and much of the work is done by volunteers.

click to enlarge [ Click to Enlarge ]
Color-IR image from the ASTER sensor, 06/23/2002 -- it is composited of the "green", "red", and "near infrared" bands from ASTER (15m pixel size) being "mapped" to R, G, B -- red shows "green vegetation" and is of the same region of the ET map sent earlier. Some of this same information is used as input to the REEM model.
When the CARSAME program was started, no one in New Mexico was able to collect this type of data, but now it’s more prevalent. “In 1999 or 2000, we proposed to the New Mexico Department of Energy and Minerals that we provide 24/7 operational fire detection using satellite data and they thought it would be very useful and very interesting, but they were unable to find the money to do it,” said Bleiweiss.

The U.S. Forest Service are now doing remote sensing of fire detection. Other areas CARSAME could contribute to are in dust storm detection and monitoring. Dust storms are a real problem throughout the state of New Mexico. As it is a sparsely populated state, often the only way to get useful information is by satellite remote sensing. “With satellite remote sensing we can also provide input information for range management and drought monitoring. Right now drought monitoring is primarily done on a county level. We could do things that would give us information down to the level of a couple of kilometers.”

CARSAME is currently working with some professors of civil engineering using similar satellite data to estimate the evapotranspiration from riparian zones along the river and irrigated agriculture, “with the idea that we can maybe help determine a more efficient use of water if we were able to get something like this going into a real time operational mode,” Bleiweiss pointed out. Using remote sensing in addition to techniques that provide point measurements, regional crop water use can be estimated for large areas. Satellite images can provide new information on crops, water shortage, insects, disease, etc. by applying an assessment of energy balance to each pixel to map spatial variation of the evapotranspiration across the crop canopy.

At one point, CARSAME was funded under Governor Richardson’s water innovation fund to do some of that work, which involved partners, one of which was the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. CARSAME is using their technology to forecast the water needs in real time, which will allow better scheduling of releases from the reservoirs of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.

CARSAME has five remote sensing ground stations that were donated by White Sands and were running real time operational. Two were devoted to geostationary satellites, which can be used for more than just meteorology (as you might see on the Weather Channel). Three of them have polar orbiting satellites which receive similar information but their spatial resolution is better and they broadcast what they’re seeing in real time.

click to enlarge [ Click to Enlarge ]
ET map of a portion of the Mesilla Valley, just below the city of Las Cruces, based on the satellite data from the ASTER sensor on board the NASA-TERRA satellite.
“When we first got started, if you weren’t receiving that information it would be lost, because the technology at that time was such they didn’t have enough storage on the satellites and downlink capabilities to be able to store and transmit all that information to a ground station once a day,” said Bleiweiss. “That has since changed in that more and more of that data is becoming available. We have data processing set up to take in that information and convert it to more useful information like the land surface temperature which can be used to help estimate evapotranspiration. Also it can be used in drought monitoring, for monitoring plant and insect growth.”

Bleiweiss credits graduate student Scott Williams with finally getting the ground stations back online and receiving data. “We’re now in the process of trying to use that to start repopulating our web page with more current information.”

Remote sensing is not all Bleiweiss does, however. “We also get involved in atmospheric modeling which can provide useful information as far as forecasting what the weather is but also to assess what the atmospheric conditions have been in the immediate past,” said Bleiweiss. “That information can be useful in precision agriculture, helping to forecast dust storms and model the progression of the dust storms. All this technology exists, it’s a matter of putting it to everyday use.” Bleiweiss contends that it’s fun to do research but it’s time to take it off the shelf and make it useful to everybody.

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