YLACES extends SciStarter grant to recruit, train, equip citizen scientists to ground-truth NASA satellite data.

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | March 29, 2016 8:26 pm

Earn your SMAP patch!

NASA scientists are on a mission to map global soil moisture, and through SciStarter, they’re teaming up with citizen scientists to gather valuable data from the ground to complement and validate what is seen from space.

Known as the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite mission, the satellite will help scientists understand links among Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles; reduce uncertainties in climate predictions; and enhance the ability to monitor and predict natural hazards like floods and droughts. SMAP data have additional practical applications for citizens everywhere, including improved weather forecasting and crop yield predictions.

In July 2015, Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists (YLACES)  announced a $50,000 grant to SciStarter (SciStarter.com) to recruit, train, and equip teams to measure and report soil moisture measurements at regular intervals. Measurement protocols and data handling are made available through the GLOBE Program, and data are made available to local decision-makers and used to help validate and calibrate NASA’s SMAP satellite measurements.  The grant also made it possible for teams to receive instruments needed for this project including heat lamps, digital scales and graduated cylinders.  

On mornings when SMAP flies over a team’s site, citizen scientists take soil samples from the top 5 cm (2 inches) of soil, weigh it, dry it under a heat lamp, and weigh it again. The decrease in weight is equal to the mass of water that was in the sample – its soil moisture. Measurements are simple to take and appropriate for all citizen scientists, including youth. Each participating team committed to providing ten measurements .

Now, YLACES has committed to extend this SciStarter activity with an additional grant of $30,000. Funding will expand and enhance the existing network of citizen scientists and provide additional training and equipment to measure rainfall and surface temperature. A major El Ñino is underway. By taking these additional measurements participants will join in GLOBE’s El Ñino measurement campaign.

Brian Campbell, a member of the SMAP team at NASA, emphasized the importance of the measurements that will be taken on the ground. “Having citizen scientists collect data is vital to the SMAP Mission. Their data can be compared to the SMAP satellite data and used as a source of validation. This validation will allow for a much more robust and accurate dataset, giving an optimal understanding of global soil moisture.”

How to Participate in the SMAP Project

Science enthusiasts, people who are concerned about their environment and our global water resources, teachers, athletes, families, civic groups, gardeners – anyone who will commit to taking regular soil measurements – can become part of this important research. Indicate interest by completing a brief online form.  

To get started, send an email to SMAP@SciStarter.com


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About Arvind Suresh (Editor)

Arvind Suresh has a Master's degree in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelors degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera.


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