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Extreme weather monitoring boosted by space sensor

The first soil moisture maps with a spatial resolution of one km are available online for the entire southern African subcontinent. As soil moisture plays an important role in the global water cycle, these maps, based on data from ESAs Envisat satellite, will lead to better weather and extreme-event forecasting, such as floods and droughts.

"Predicting when and where floods are likely to happen is becoming more and more important," Geoff Pegram of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, said. "Although we cannot prevent floods, we can anticipate them and hopefully get people out of the way. This brings hydrology into the 21st century and makes life better for people."

Soil moisture is the water stored in the soil within reach of plants. When there is too little soil moisture, rain-fed crops and natural vegetation wilt. When there is too much soil moisture, the risk of flooding, flash floods and erosion increase.

Despite its importance for agricultural planning and weather forecasting, there has been a lack of soil moisture information in Africa because of the high costs of in-situ measurement networks. In addition, unlike satellite observations, point-based measurements are often not sufficient to provide an overall picture over large areas that may be effectively used in models.

The ESA-backed SHARE (Soil Moisture for Hydrometeorological Applications in the Southern African Development Community Region) project, funded through the ESAs Data User Element, is the first to demonstrate that spaceborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instruments can deliver soil moisture data of high spatial (one km) and temporal (less than one week) resolution.

The SHARE project team combines expertise in soil moisture remote sensing from Vienna University of Technology with specialists in hydro-meteorological applications from University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa.

"I think it is really a breakthrough.
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
Mariangela.DAcunto@esa.int
39-069-418-0856
European Space Agency
16-Jul-2007


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