06/06/2012 04:10 EDT | Updated 08/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Eye in the sky: NASA to measure soil moisture from space

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. - Researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will look to the sky over Manitoba this summer for information about the ground beneath them.

They will be part of a global experiment to test methods for monitoring soil moisture from satellite information.

Between June 7 and July 17, NASA is to fly two piloted aircraft several times a week over an area of mixed agriculture and forest from Portage la Prairie to Carman.

The aircraft will carry instruments similar to those onboard a satellite NASA plans to launch in 2014.

The goal is for the satellite to measure surface soil moisture, temperatures and freeze-thaw cycles from space.

The data will be used to create maps that will help producers make informed farming decisions based on changing weather, water and climate conditions.

Agriculture Canada says it is installing 50 temporary soil moisture monitoring stations to provide continuous measurements over the six weeks of the experiment.

Last year, the department installed permanent stations on a number of private farms to help assess the satellite data after the launch.

About 70 field and aircraft crew are expected to participate in the six-week exercise.

Agriculture Canada says southwestern Manitoba was chosen for the project for many reasons. The main one is that there are extremes in soil moisture in the Red River watershed – from drought to flooding.

The area also has a range of crop types, land cover (farmland, wetlands and forests) and soil texture.