When drought threatens crops: NASA's role in famine warnings

phys.org | 6/1/2018 | Staff
joyy (Posted by) Level 3

NASA's satellite imagery and model forecasts regularly help agricultural and aid agencies to monitor the performance of crops worldwide and prepare for food shortages.

"In the 1970's the U.S. realized that drought impacts on global agriculture were severely affecting trade and food aid decisions, while ground based information and forecasting of drought was very limited," said Brad Doorn, water resources program manager in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "Earth observations from space provide the persistent, global information needed to detect precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, and vegetation conditions that give us a more complete picture of conditions that lead to drought, as well as its impacts."

Areas - Planet - NASA - Partner - Agencies

One of the areas of the planet that NASA and its partner agencies have been keeping a close eye on is southern Africa, which has experienced a year of extremes. Overly dry conditions developed across parts of the region around the start of the 2018-2019 maize crop season in October and persist until today, putting millions of people at risk of famine. Countries like Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola are facing some of the worst droughts on record. To make matters worse, two tropical cyclones hit areas of Mozambique and surrounding regions in March and April, causing flooding and high levels of crop loss in the affected region.

The drought is tied to El Niño, a weather pattern tied with persistent warming in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, which is expected to last until the end of 2019. El Niño brings high temperatures and a dearth of rainfall to southern Africa. When the shortages in rainfall persist, they evolve into deficits in soil moisture, which can decimate rainfed crops—the most predominant type in southern Africa, where less than 10% of the arable land is irrigated.

Steps - Drought

Each of the steps leading to agricultural drought can be seen...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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