NASA and Agriculture

NASA's fleet of satellites has been watching over Earth for more than half a century, collecting valuable data about the crops that make up our food supply and the water it takes to grow them. This wealth of information allows scientists to monitor farmland – tracking the overall food supply, where specific crops are grown, and how much water it takes to grow them with data from the Landsat satellites and others.

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Visualizations

  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Maize Yields
    2021.08.23
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Maize is grown all over the world, and large quantities are produced in countries nearer the equator. North and Central America, West Africa, Central Asia, Brazil and China will potentially see their maize yields decline in the coming years and beyond as average temperatures rise across these breadbasket regions, putting more stress on the plants. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
    Science On a Sphere Content The following section contains assets designed for Science On a Sphere and related displays. SOS playlist file: playlist.sos SOS label file: labels.txt
  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Wheat Yields
    2021.09.01
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Wheat, which grows best in temperate climates, may see a broader area where it can be grown in places such as the northern United States and Canada, North China Plains, Central Asia, southern Australia and East Africa as temperatures rise, but these gains may level off mid-century. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
    Science on a Sphere Content The following section contains assets designed for Science on a Sphere and related displays. SOS playlist file: playlist.sos SOS label file: labels.txt
  • A Global view of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly in crop-growing regions from 2000 to 2021
    2021.08.09
    Conditions in certain regions of the globe are suitable for growing particular crops but weather can alter the growing conditions in those regions throughout the year. Satellite data can gauge the health of plants, which is a good indicator of crop productivity. The satellite imagery used in this visualization shows changes in vegetation in regions where maize, rice, soybeans, summer wheat and winter wheat are grown. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) measures how dense and green plant leaves are which suggests overall vegetative health. Scientists calculate average NDVI values over a span of years to find out what is normal at each time of year. They then compare the current NDVI value for each day of year to the average computed over the set of base years to determine if the areas are more or less productive than the average. This comparison, called the NDVI Anomaly, is used in this visualization showing the changes in global crop production between 2000 and 2021. The NDVI anomaly images are useful as a measure of drought when compared to 'normal' plant health. In this visualization, regions where crops are more productive than average are shown by shades of green where the brightest colors are the most productive. Areas of drought are shown in shades of orange, with the most severe drought being the brightest orange/yellow. This data was measured by the vegetation instrument Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. However, this instrument is not able to see the surface through clouds so there are regions where no data is collected on cloudy days. In these regions, the most recent prior days value is used up to 10 days before. Areas without data for ten or more days are designated as having no data. Areas with no data or areas that have a value close to average are shown in dark grey. Time periods when no data is available globally have been skipped in this visualization.
  • Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly in crop-growing regions for selected years
    2021.08.09
    Conditions in certain regions of the globe are suitable for growing particular crops but weather can alter the growing conditions in those regions throughout the year. Satellite data can gauge the health of plants, which is a good indicator of crop productivity. The satellite imagery used in this visualization shows changes in vegetation in regions where maize, rice, soybeans, summer wheat and winter wheat are grown. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) measures how dense and green plant leaves are which suggests overall vegetative health. Scientists calculate average NDVI values over a span of years to find out what is normal at each time of year. They then compare the current NDVI value for each day of year to the average computed over the set of base years to determine if the areas are more or less productive than the average. This comparison, called the NDVI Anomaly, is used in this visualization showing the changes in global crop production in regions of the globe and time periods when they experienced significant drought conditions. The NDVI anomaly images are useful as a measure of drought when compared to 'normal' plant health. In this visualization, areas of drought are shown in shades of orange, with the most severe drought being the brightest orange/yellow. Regions where crops are more productive than average are shown by shades of green where the brightest colors are the most productive. This data was measured by the vegetation instrument Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. However, this instrument is not able to see the surface through clouds so there are regions where no data is collected on cloudy days. In these regions, the most recent prior days value is used up to 10 days before. Areas without data for ten or more days are designated as having no data. Areas with no data or areas that have a value close to average are shown in dark grey. Time periods when no data is available globally have been skipped in this visualization.

Produced Pieces

  • Climate Change Could Affect Global Agriculture within 10 Years
    2021.11.01
    Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, with the declines becoming apparent by 2030, with high greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new NASA study. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range.
  • Snack Time with NASA
    2021.08.18
    Snack Time with NASA digs into the science behind what’s on your plate from a tasty cheese board, to seafood, to fresh produce, to chips and dip. Food can bring us a sense of home, and it connects people all around the world. With observations from space and aircraft, combined with high-end computer modeling, NASA scientists work together with partner agencies, organizations, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and decision makers to understand the relationship between the Earth system and the environments that provide us food.
  • Keeping Track of Food Production From Space
    2021.07.26
    While USDA has monitored crops around the world for almost a century, the discovery that satellites can “see” greening of vegetation has revolutionized agricultural monitoring for food security. The development of the GLAM system in the 1980s, a collaboration with USDA and the International Production Assessment Division, has helped governments to assess whether or not there will be enough basic food crops to feed their populations, as well as provide international food aid organizations with a tool to predict where food shortages might occur.
  • Guiding Farmers with NASA Satellites
    2020.04.23
    Agriculture in Pakistan is dependent on irrigation from the Indus River, but over the years, these freshwater resources have become scarce. Today, it is one of the world’s most depleted basins. To tackle this, farmers are attempting to predict and track freshwater resources with the help of NASA satellites and cell phones.
  • Landsat: Farming Data From Space
    2020.02.12
    As the climate of our home planet changes, some places are drying out and others are getting wetter, including the land that produces the food we eat. Farmers are learning how to adapt to changing climate conditions. NASA's fleet of satellites has been watching over Earth for more than half a century, collecting valuable data about the crops that make up our food supply and the water it takes to grow them. This wealth of information allows scientists to monitor farmland – tracking the overall food supply, where specific crops are grown, and how much water it takes to grow them with data from the Landsat satellites and others. And with that data, farmers can find new ways to grow more crops with less water. As our climate changes, it’s more important than ever for farmers to have the knowledge they need to adapt their farming practices to a warming world. The data collected by our Earth-observing fleet helps farmers learn about the planet that sustains us – and make better decisions about how to cultivate it. The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the USGS. Landsat satellites have been consistently gathering data about our planet since 1972. They continue to improve and expand this unparalleled record of Earth's changing landscapes for the benefit of all.
  • Connect the Drops with NASA Data
    2019.07.09
    The varied landscapes of the United States have unique relationships with water. On the East Coast, rain is a regular occurrence. In the West, drought is a constant threat. Rivers and lakes fed by rainfall, snowmelt or a mix of both provide two-thirds of the country's drinking water while also supporting agriculture. Managing these water resources requires balancing growing demand for water in the face of shifting availability and changing climate. Many state and federal agencies and other organizations turn to NASA research, satellite data and analytical tools to help tackle these issues. Since the 1960s, NASA has been steadily expanding its view of how fresh water moves around the planet. Early satellites that imaged clouds and snow cover evolved to more recent missions that quantify rain and snowfall worldwide every half-hour, make daily observations of global snow cover, detect changes in aquifers deep underground, and monitor moisture in soils every few days. These observations are some of the most powerful assets scientists have when studying the water cycle, how it affects people and their water supplies, and how it may change in a warming climate. At NASA, researchers maintain and refine these data sets, providing them to the public at no cost. NASA researchers also help to interpret the information with sophisticated computer programs that integrate the disparate data sets and fill gaps to create a coherent picture of where and how water moves around the planet every day.

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