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NASA Spacecraft Will Help California Address Drought and Floods

Oct 20, 2014

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft is slowly lowered into place at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in preparation for shipping to California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on October 15th.
Credit NASA / JPL-Caltech

Scientists may soon have a more accurate way to predict the extent and severity of droughts, floods and even the amount of food California can produce. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, a NASA spacecraft getting set to launch will measure soil moisture, one of the most important components of the earth’s water cycle.

Soil moisture may not sound that exciting, but having too much or too little of it has tremendous consequences. Measuring it can help predict the severity of droughts, where floods may occur, and even the potential for wildfires. NASA is expected to launch its Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft in January. Dara Entekhabi is the science team leader for the mission.

Entekhabi:“Soil moisture affects plant growth, it’s the definition of agricultural drought,  it causes floods, depending on soil moisture a rain event can cause a flood or not cause a flood, it all depends on soil moisture.”

The spacecraft’s data can improve weather forecasts and could help the state manage water better. The spacecraft is now at its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base after traveling from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Once launched on January 29th, it could start producing data within three months.