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NASA maps Earth's croplands from space
29 January 2014
It takes a lot of land to grow food for the world's seven billion people. About a third of Earth's terrestrial surface is used for agriculture. And about a third of that, in turn, is used to grow crops. Now, a new NASA-funded effort aims to map crop fields worldwide, identify what's growing where, and determine whether it's irrigated or fed by rain.
But making those maps will take more than satellite data. It will require special software, and that's where James Tilton, a computer engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., can help.
Tilton will apply and build on a software program he developed for another NASA project to help NASA's Making Earth System data records for Use in Research Environments program, or MEaSUREs, map 3.7-billion acres of cropland worldwide.
"The idea of this project is to have an accurate cropland data set," said Prasad Thenkabail, the principal investigator of the MEaSUREs project and a research geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. "Ultimately, it will help provide a better accounting of water use, cropland productivity, and water productivity - all critical information for studying global food security."