NASA partners with TERN to map global carbon

source: TERN

An exciting new data sharing partnership between NASA and TERN will help deliver precise information on the water and carbon exchanges everywhere on Earth’s surface, vital for climatic forecasting.
On January 31st NASA launched a new satellite that measures global soil moisture and the state of the world’s frozen lands. As part of an exciting new partnership, TERN will play an important role in validating the data the satellite captures and ensuring that they, and subsequent products, are as accurate as possible.

NASA’s new satellite, called SMAP, will measure soil moisture over a three-year period, every 2-3 days. ‘This permits changes, around the world, to be observed over time scales ranging from major storms to repeated measurements of changes over the seasons’, reads a media release from the SMAP team based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, USA.

Accurate information on soil moisture and global water and carbon movements delivered by the SMAP mission will be indispensable for a number of agricultural and environmental applications, including: predicting agricultural productivity, weather forecasting, and early drought warnings, just to name a few.

The production of our food and where vegetation grows are dependent on how much water is in the soil.  Soil moisture also affects the flows of water and energy between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere, which in turn influence our weather and climate. Knowing how much water is in our soils and where is incredibly important.

Understanding the carbon cycle – how and why carbon, including CO2, moves between the atmosphere and vegetation, soil, and aquatic systems – and measuring and estimating the planet’s current and future environmental carbon stocks and flows helps those managing carbon-related issues in state and federal government agencies, industry, NGOs and the ecosystem science community make informed decisions that affect all of us.


Better weather forecasting (eg earlier warning of droughts) and improved predictions of agricultural productivity will soon be possible, thanks to more accurate measurements of global water and carbon movements made by NASA’s SMAP satellite, which will be validated by data from a number of international organisations including TERN (diagram adapted from NASA original)


Before SMAP can start delivering accurate data to scientists and managers, the preliminary data must be validated using ground-based observations.  This is where TERN is going to lend a hand.  NASA plans to tap into TERN’s national network of environmental monitoring infrastructure and use the data it generates to validate observations from SMAP.

‘We’re in the process of developing a partnership with TERN that will give us access to their data on land-air exchanges of carbon and water captured by OzFlux’s network of flux towers, says Andreas Colliander of NASA’s JPL.

‘These data from TERN will be vital in the process of validating the data we receive from SMAP and making sure the products delivered by JPL are as accurate as possible.’

‘We currently have data sharing arrangements with a number of north-American and European organisations for this type of data but this will be our first in the southern hemisphere,’ says Andreas.  ‘This partnership [with TERN] is an important step and one we’re looking forward to strengthening over time.’

TERN will primarily be lending a hand with the validation of SMAP’s carbon product, with the potential for some of TERN’s soil moisture resources to be included in the future.  Monash University and the CSIRO, via their ARC funded MoistureMonitor project and its associated intensive SMAPEx airborne field campaigns, will deliver Australia’s validation data for SMAP’s soil moisture product.  SMAPEX is led by Australia’s representative on SMAP’s mission science team Professor Jeff Walker and consists of a series of field experiments specifically designed to contribute to the validation of soil moisture detection by SMAP’s radar and radiometer.

TERN’s new agreement with NASA’s JPL is also set to benefit TERN and its research facilities. Under the proposed agreement, TERN will regularly receive validated SMAP data prior to public release. Early access to the data will enable TERN associated researchers to undertake and deliver useful analyses for the Australian continent faster than previously possible.

The director of TERN’s Ecological Modelling and Scaling Infrastructure (eMAST) facility, Brad Evans, has been instrumental in getting the partnership off the ground and is very excited about what it offers Australian science.

‘For eMAST, having access to NASA’s data will mean we’re able to improve our continental scale ecosystem models of landscape management, carbon accounting and climate prediction,’ says Brad. ‘We should also be able to produce them quicker thanks to the regular data feeds from NASA.’

‘As with all TERN data, products and models, we plan to make this information openly-accessible, meaning that researchers, managers and policy makers will have access to the latest and most accurate science at their finger tips.’

Un-validated, ‘beta’, data from SMAP is expected to be publicly available within six months after spacecraft commissioning, with validated data coming online by May 2016. Thanks to the head start this partnership offers, we hope to be reporting on exciting new Australia-specific models and data products produced using SMAP data in future TERN eNewsletters well before May 2016, resources permitting.

Our international collaborations with NASA are not one of a kind here at TERN.  TERN has strong connections with analogous organisations across the globe including FluxNet and DataONE in the US, Europe’s AnaEE, the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, New Zealand’s KiwiFlux, and are in the process of partnering with a future Korean Ecological Observatory Network. We also have a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in the US.

It is these international collaborations that are allowing us to present Australian ecosystem science to the world and advance Australia’s research standing globally. Anyone interested in collaborating further with TERN can contact the Director of Collaborations and Partnerships, Associate Professor Nikki Thurgate.

Monash University and CSIRO jointly invite interested parties to get involved with their SMAPEx airborne field validation experiments scheduled for May and September/October 2015. For more information on these opportunities please contact Jeff Walker.

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