Monitoring Crops from Space

Mission to deliver new methods of monitoring crops from space.
30 September 2011

Because sustainable food production remains a pressing challenge, scientists have been assessing the potential of the future Sentinel-1 mission to deliver new methods of monitoring crops from space.

Sentinel-1, expected to be launched in 2013, is one of the five missions that the European Space Agency (ESA) is developing for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program.

While the design of the Sentinel-1 mission is primarily based on marine applications such as ship detection and sea-ice mapping, there is increasing interest in using its spaceborne radar data for monitoring crops grown around the world. A recent two-year campaign investigated the extent to which frequent coverage from the C-band radar on Sentinel-1 could deliver essential information to improve agricultural practices, estimate crop acreage, forecast yields, etc.

The campaign was carried out over three distinctly different sites in Canada, the Netherlands, and Spain.

According to the ESA, the results show that agricultural applications could benefit greatly from Sentinel-1's all-weather images. The frequent coverage that Sentinel-1 offers is especially useful for monitoring crops where growth and management practices mean that they are constantly changing.

"Different scientists working on data gathered over different regions have all drawn very similar conclusions: Sentinel-1 is going to be able to deliver very accurate data on crop classification around world," says Heather McNairn from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

She says Sentinel-1 data on 'leaf area index' will also be useful to monitor how healthy and productive a crop is.

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