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Release No. 0208.15
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USDA and NASA Expand Innovative Partnership to Better Predict Wildfires, Monitor Drought from Space

Updated Memorandum of Understanding strengthens research and data sharing, promotes STEM and agriculture to younger generations

MOFFETT FIELD, California, July 16, 2015—Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman today announced an expanded partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) designed to better protect America's working lands, predict and prevent natural disasters, and inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and agriculture.

"Space is a unique laboratory that can be a gateway to solving some of the greatest agricultural challenges of our time," says Deputy Secretary Harden. "This partnership is a powerful opportunity for USDA and NASA to yield new tools and techniques to help farmers and ranchers as they deal with the ongoing impacts of climate change and drought. Perhaps most importantly, this partnership will expose more young people to the power of science and innovation to solve some of the world's most pressing challenges."

"There are many areas where NASA and USDA have overlapping interests," said NASA's Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. "We can now better coordinate and build on the resources of both NASA and the USDA to help learn more about our planet's vital resources and inspire the next generation to become better stewards of our planet."

Among other things, the agreement will expand cooperation on space-borne remote sensing efforts to gather soil moisture data. One potential outcome of the expanded partnership between USDA and NASA could be using satellite data to create a series of soil moisture maps for California that could be used to improve weather and water availability forecasting and provide a drought early-warning system to producers, particularly in California.

Under the new agreement, USDA now has expanded access to data from NASA satellites that will help Forest Service fire fighters and first responders better detect wildfires and predict their behavior. USDA and the Department of the Interior have spent nearly $1.5 billion annually over the past decade on wildfire suppression, but this new technology has the potential to stop wildfires before they start, saving money, land, and even lives.

Deputy Secretary Harden and Deputy Administrator Newman at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalizing the expanded collaboration between USDA and NASA. As hunger and climate change are rapidly escalating threats to public health and national security, both NASA and USDA have a role to play in inspiring the next generation of students to pursue careers in STEM and agricultural fields.

Ames Research Center, one of ten NASA field enters, is located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. For more than 75 years, Ames has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development in aeronautics, exploration technology and science aligned with the center's core capabilities. The International Space Station (ISS), operated by NASA, includes a National Laboratory where ground-breaking scientific research is conducted every day. Currently, NASA has a mini veggie farm at the International Space Station to grow fresh produce like lettuce.

Since 2009, USDA has invested $4.32 billion in research and development grants. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research now returns over $20 to our economy. In recent years, research by USDA scientists has led to discoveries of everything from a potential solution for millions who suffer allergies from peanuts to safe mosquito control that can help halt the transmission of diseases they spread, among others. For the latest on discoveries by USDA researchers, read the 2014 Annual Report on Technology Transfer.

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