CSUMB scientists recognized for work with NASA to improve water management in California

A project to provide useful information to California growers and water managers has won an award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC).

The consortium helps federal labs link their technologies and expertise with the marketplace.

California row cropsAs part of the award-winning project, senior research scientists at CSU Monterey Bay – Forrest Melton, Lars Pierce, Lee Johnson and Chris Lund – teamed with engineers and scientists from NASA, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), growers and other partners to develop a system for mapping daily irrigation demand throughout the state.

The project – officially known as Water Management in California: Scalable to Regional and National Applications – was named the outstanding partnership in the FLC’s Far West Region for 2011.

The system calculates measures of crop conditions from satellite data, and also retrieves data from the California Irrigation Management Information System managed by DWR, as well as surface sensor networks that measure weather conditions and soil moisture.

These observations are combined to provide information about crop growth and irrigation demand to growers and water managers to help them manage water resources.

The satellite data comes from satellites that are part of the Landsat program, Earth-observing satellites launched by NASA and managed by the U.S. Geological Survey. The images they produce have a resolution of about a quarter of an acre, a scale fine enough to be useful to growers. The system also uses data from the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites to improve data reliability, since these satellites collect data over California on a daily basis, though at a slightly coarser resolution.

 “I’m proud of our CSUMB-NASA team for what we have accomplished under this project, as well as the partnerships we have established with the California Department of Water Resources, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Jet Propulsion Lab, California growers and our partners at Fresno State, the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey,” Melton said.

Data from the system is intended to provide growers with an independent estimate of irrigation requirements, and can serve as another input into decisions about irrigation scheduling and management.

Studies conducted in California have shown that use of this type of data can lead to increases in crop yields and reductions in total applied irrigation.

"Our primary goal is to provide new information to growers to help them get the most out of the water available for irrigation," Melton said.

"We are also exploring ways that we can use this information to support water managers in improving the delivery of water to growers around the state."

Through the project, CSUMB scientists have been working with the Western Growers Association and growers around the state to deploy a sensor network in fields, and to jointly evaluate the satellite-derived estimates of irrigation demand.

“It has the potential to be very helpful and to provide more precise information for growers,” said Sonia Salas, science and technology manager for Western Growers. “That’s the beauty of it.

“Feedback from users is critical to refine data,” Salas added. “Currently, feedback from participants in pilot tests is being gathered, analyzed and considered to provide a valuable and user-friendly tool to growers.”

Other components of the overall project included work to improve mapping of the winter snow pack and forecasting of snowmelt and runoff, as well as efforts to improve mapping of rainfall patterns.

The award will be presented at the FLC’s meeting Aug. 31 in Monterey.

To learn more about the project, click here.

To learn more about the CSUMB/NASA Ames Cooperative Agreement, click here.

Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service