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Canadian contribution to the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission

Launch: January 31, 2015
Status: Commissioning

What is SMAP?

As an orbiting laboratory, SMAP aims to advance our knowledge of the water and carbon cycles by producing global maps of soil moisture and monitor the freeze thaw status of soils in Canadian boreal environment and other cold areas of the world.

SMAP Infographic

The purpose of the SMAP mission is to map soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state from space. The satellite precisely measures conditions in the top 5 cm of soil. This data can be extremely useful, particularly for agriculture. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Use of laboratory

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) mission SMAP is covering Canada every day over a three-year period. SMAP's combined radar and radiometer instruments peer into the top 5 cm of soil, through clouds and moderate vegetation cover, day and night, to produce the highest-resolution, most accurate soil moisture and freeze/thaw maps ever obtained from space. NASA plans to release final verified soil moisture data maps by May 2016 and the final verified freeze/thaw maps by July 2016.

Benefits for Canadians

SMAP will help improve climate and weather forecasts, allow scientists to monitor droughts and better predict flooding; information that can save lives, reduce damages to infrastructures and also help protect our environment. In addition, SMAP data will have a huge influence on agriculture management; ranging from crop yields, to providing early warning of conditions that might lead to an explosion of pests; hence providing information that will help Canadian farmers to make informed farm-operation decisions based on changing weather, water and climate conditions.

The funded research contributes to validate soil moisture data obtained from numerous sites across Canada that have been outfitted with soil moisture and temperature probes.

Canada's involvement

Five Canadian universities have been selected to receive a total of $1.4 million to participate in the scientific validation of NASA's SMAP mission.

These projects serve to validate measurements of the soil moisture and seasonal freeze/thaw cycle, with the use of instruments collecting data on the ground, in the air and in space. This is an important step towards SMAP's objective to provide high fidelity measurements and high resolution global maps of the Earth's soil moisture and freeze/thaw state

As part of a complex but essential validation campaign, the field data of each site are compared with measurements obtained by an aircraft instrument and by the SMAP satellite. This is an immensely complex endeavor since the measurements must be validated in accordance with the very diverse soil types, land cover, topography, weather and other atmospheric conditions that occur over our vast country and which are subject to changes over the seasons.

Scientific objectives

Under the leadership of Environment Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the selected projects are overall pursuing the following scientific objectives:

  1. Develop Applications programs, Techniques and Methods to evaluate the soil moisture content, and
  2. Develop Applications programs, Techniques and Methods to remotely sense the Frozen/Thaw status of soils

List of projects

Here is a list of projects selected which received a grant to contribute to Canada's involvement with the SMAP satellite mission.

University Project Description
Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec Passive microwave soil freeze/thaw monitoring Cal/Val for the SMAP mission (Amendment) This project focuses on the validation of measurements of the freeze/thaw cycle in Sherbrooke and Nunavik, Quebec.
University of Guelph, Ontario Improved soil moisture retrieval and freeze/thaw state indicators over several Canadian ecosystems This project focuses on the validation of soil moisture measurements and soil freeze thaw products in the regions of Kenaston (Saskatchewan), Elora (Ontario), Scotty Creek and Trail Valley Creek (N.W.T.). The research will seek to include the SMAP data into weather and agricultural models to improve their performance.
L'Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Quebec Freeze/Thaw cycle monitoring using multi-scale SMAP products and hydrothermal modelling over the Canadian tundra This project focuses on the validation of measurements of the freeze/thaw cycle in the region of Umiujaq, Quebec.
University of Manitoba Validation of Satellite-derived Soil Moisture Products for Operational Use This project focused on the validation of soil moisture measurement in South Eastern Manitoba, specifically probing agricultural fields with a range of soil types and crops.
Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec Validation of Satellite-derived Soil Moisture Products for Operational Use This project focuses on the validation of soil moisture measurements over agricultural fields located in the Quebec region and South Eastern Manitoba.
University of Toronto, Ontario Assimilation of SMAP data in an ecosystem model to improve water and carbon cycle simulations Using soil moisture measurements, this project aims to develop a new and enhanced computer model to improve regional water and carbon flux estimation for the benefits of Environment Canada's Canadian Land Data Assimilation System (CalDAS).

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