Farmers harvesting their paddy
Using NASA maps, it will be easier for farmers to track the moisture levels in their fieldsWork Bank

SMAP, the first ever mission of NASA dedicated to mapping and measuring water content of soil globally has now started collecting data. It will soon be used to monitor crop lands, forecast commodities, and help the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast crops worldwide.

Called the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, (SMAP), the mission was launched in 2015 primarily to map water content in soil worldwide. NASA said that it will provide the mission with a set of new tools built by the Goddard Space Flight Center, making it easier for researchers to find out where there is too much moisture or too little of it in the soil to get a better crop yield.

"There's a lot of need for understanding, monitoring and forecasting crops globally," said John Bolten, a research scientist at Goddard. "SMAP is NASA's first satellite mission devoted to soil moisture, and this is a very straightforward approach to applying that data."

The maps provided by NASA resemble watercolour paintings, wetter areas seen in shades of green and and normal ones in blue and drier than normal regions marked in brown. Before using the technology, USDA has apparently made use of computer simulations to measure soil moisture in farms. Since this approach was prone to errors, NASA is now incorporating SMAP data.

"Crop Explorer"– USDA Foreign Agricultural Service website– which holds data on regional droughts, crop forecasts, and floods will incorporate all the data useful for these forecasts globally.

SMAP data, available to see, is still in its testing beta stage. Once launched, the site will provide global data once every three days and NASA's arm Jet Propulsion Laboratory will provide Crop Explorer with the updates.

The data can be used to monitor rain and moisture conditions and help in forecasting productivity and NASA has extended the capability to the entire planet. The maps are for use any where in any country.