Before Getting Stuck on a Muddy Road, Check With This Satellite First

A NASA spacecraft helps Air Force drivers avoid messy, and possibly dangerous, delays.

M88A2 Hercules Recovery Vehicle
Soldiers use an M88A2 Hercules Recovery Vehicle to pull a truck from a deep puddle of mud during training. Soil moisture data from a NASA satellite could help prevent trucks getting stuck in the first place.

Every now and then, we all deal with the frustration of getting stuck on a muddy road—but for U.S. Army personnel, it could be a matter of life and death.

That’s why the U.S. Air Force HQ 557th Weather Wing is now using soil moisture data from a NASA satellite in the weather advisories that it issues for the Army and the Air Force. Launched in 2015, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) orbiting observatory measures the amount of water in the top two inches of soil everywhere on Earth’s surface. That data helps scientists monitor droughts, predict floods, and develop more accurate climate models.

This Air Force initiative will be the first instance of assimilating SMAP data in an operational, near-real-time environment. In addition to assessing how muddy the land surface is for vehicles, military personnel will be able to provide better forecasts, since soil moisture is also a key weather-maker, as it evaporates into water vapor, rises, and condenses into clouds.

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This story is a selection from the February/March issue of Air & Space magazine

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