Following two consecutive years of drought conditions, 2014 is shaping up to be one of the driest years on record in California. Since 1982, the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) has operated more than 140 monitoring stations that provide daily measurements of agricultural weather conditions and the amount of water lost to the atmosphere by a well-water grass surface. Data from this network is distributed through the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS), operated by CDWR. To date, this information has been shown to have great value as a tool for irrigation managers to determine the water requirements for their crops.

NASA is implementing Web and mobile data interfaces to increase the ability of growers to access and use satellite data in irrigation management and crop monitoring. (NASA Ames)

NASA invested significant resources over the past 10 years in the development of new technologies including the Terrestrial Observation and Prediction System (TOPS) and a platform for scientific collaboration called NASA Earth Exchange  (NEX), that can deploy the high-end computing power of the NASA Advanced Supercomputer at Ames to solve real-world problems by quickly processing and integrating data from a variety of sources including satellites.

Using these technologies, NASA and a team of scientists working on the Satellite Irrigation Management Support (SIMS) project are working closely with CDWR, partner growers, and the Western Growers Association to develop a system for mapping crop conditions and crop water requirements across millions of acres of California farmland.

By combining NASA satellite data with information provided by CIMIS, the team is able to develop near real-time estimates of crop water requirements for every field in the state. This information is designed to help California growers better manage irrigation, monitor crop development, and improve on-farm water use efficiency. It also helps water managers improve estimates of agricultural water requirements.