Snack Time with NASA: Cheese Board

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Kathleen: Welcome to Snacktime with NASA![barking] [laughs]

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Okay… Welcome to Snacktime with NASA! I’m your host, Kathleen

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Gaeta, and this is my dog Buoy, and we both really love cheese.

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So this past year at home, I think we’ve all learned to appreciate the little things in life, and again,

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one of those things for us is a nice, big cheese board. So today,

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I’m gonna show you how I like to prepare my own, and where NASA actually fits

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on the board. Many people don’t know that NASA has a lot to do with the food

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on your plate, so we’re gonna highlight some of the foods NASA helps grow,

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using data from space. Now, when you think of NASA and dairy, especially

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you might think of freeze-dried ice cream for astronauts, but

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the connection actually goes a lot deeper. So, why a cracker and cheese board?

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When we’re talking about food, it all comes down to water.

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Corn, soy, alfalfa, it all needs water too grow,

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whether it’s being fed to humans or dairy cows. So when farmers

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are better prepared for a water shortage in advance, they can make more sustainable

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decisions, like what crops to grow, how to irrigate them,

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and where and what to feed their livestock. So here to help explain the connection between

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space and plate is Matt Rodell, NASA hydrospheric scientist.

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Hey Matt, how’s it going?

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Matt: Hey Kathleen, how are you? Thanks for having me.

Kathleen: Good, thanks for being here. So while I attempt to cube some cheese, can you tell

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me what NASA has to do with irrigation for agriculture?

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Matt: Absolutely. So, agriculture requires a nice, wet

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soil for growing crops. In order to know how well the crops

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are gonna grow, the farmers need to have a better idea of how much water there is in

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the soil, and so we’ve been coming up with better ways for monitoring

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soil wetness from space. One of the ways we do this is

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we use a NASA satellite called SMAP, which is an acronym,

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and SMAP actually measures the wetness in the top of the soil

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worldwide, every day. And this information is vital

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for understanding how much water is available for the plants, how much water is

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needed for irrigating the crops, and so it’s useful for farmers

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and land managers and others. It’s also useful for monitoring

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drought. Another mission that NASA has is called GRACE,

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which is another acronym, and GRACE is really incredible, because it

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uses measurements of Earth’s gravity field to understand

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the amount of water on and in the land surface.

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So we can even measure things like the amount of water in the

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underground aquifers, deep underground. This is vitally important,

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because groundwater is one of the main sources of water for agriculture.

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It’s also a source of water for people who have wells in their backyard, like I do,

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so when I turn the faucet on, that’s groundwater coming out. And in fact,

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about half the produce that we eat we have groundwater

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to thank for that. Because it’s used for that much irrigation. This includes things like

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the wheat in your crackers, soy, fruits and vegetables

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on your platter, etc. So all these things

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NASA’s doing are really contributing to our understanding of the water

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availability that’s critical for irrigating all these crops.

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Kathleen: Interesting…and a good reminder that this cheese board needs dressing up. So I have

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edamame in front of me, and what I believe to be the most underrated part of a cheese board,

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which are carrots and olives.

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Matt: Yeah, those are pretty water-intensive crops, and they’re grown in the Central Valley,

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which is some place where proper water management is really critical.

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I see you have some grapes there, too. Speaking of grapes, NASA has an ongoing

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project with the US Department of Agriculture and vintners

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in California called GRAPEX, where we’re using data from Landsat

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satellite, along with multiple other space and ground-

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based observation sources, and advanced computer models, to help

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to schedule irrigation for these vineyards, and therefore, preserve

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the precious resource: water. It’s really precious in California,

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where there’s an ongoing drought right now, as well as most of the American West.

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We use data from multiple satellites

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to monitor drought. This helps the end-users like the farmers and the ranchers

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and others that are interested in agriculture to better

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prepare for drought, and to better plan how to mitigate

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the effects of drought. Drought’s gonna become even more important in the future

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we believe, with climate change. It’s likely that in some parts of the world,

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droughts are going to become more frequent and more intense,

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and it’s possible that the dry parts of the world will get drier,

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wet parts of the world will get wetter. That’s where NASA comes in. So we’re helping with

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not only the current monitoring drought, but the forecasting

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of near-current drought, and then predictions

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of how climate is gonna change in the future, and how it’s going to affect our water resources.

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Kathleen: Well, Matt, it looks like my cheese board’s done. What do you think?

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Matt: I think it looks delicious, and I can’t wait to go start my own lunch.

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Thanks so much for having me, Kathleen!

Kathleen: Thank you for joining me! And thank you everyone for watching;

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I hope you learned a lot, I know I did. And I hope this episode

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wasn’t too cheesy for you.

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[laughs]Okay...

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Good?