AAAS Session on New Earth Observing Methods


My Valentine’s day this year was spent en route to San Jose, where I attended the AAAS meeting to convene a session on “Advances in Earth Observation: Enabling New Insights into Global Environmental Change“, featuring Matt Hansen, Kelly Caylor, and Maggi Kelly. The goal of the session was to illustrate how new methods and hardware, such as advanced parallel processing, in-field environmental sensors, and data integration platforms, are starting to fill in the spatial and temporal gaps in our current abilities to observe ecological processes. We had a pretty nice turnout, despite the fact that we were scheduled for 8 am on Sunday morning!

October Trip to Zambia

I was in Zambia a few weeks ago, working with colleagues at the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) on new projects [1, 2, 3].  I spent part of my time setting up PulsePods (the fantastic tool being developed by my colleagues Adam Wolf, Kelly Caylor, Ben Siegfried, and Eric Wood) at a few trial sites, in preparation for larger scale deployments that will happen next year.  The pods provide in-field measurements, returned via cell phone SMS, of crop growth and micrometeorology, and will provide key data for scaling up model-derived crop yield estimates to crop to larger extents. Below are a few photos from deployments at ZARI and near Chirundu along the Zimbabwe border (and near the confluence of the Kafue and Zambezi Rivers),  with Sesele Sokotela and Stalin Sichinga of ZARI, and with Muke Mukelabai (and colleagues) at the Zambia Meteorological Department.

Trends in Water Availability for African Maize, 1979-2010


We recently published a paper in Environmental Research Letters that examines changes in the water available for growing maize in sub-Saharan Africa between 1979 and 2010. We identified trends in rainfall, potential evapotranspiration (PET, which is the atmospheric demand for water), and the ratio of the two (also known as the aridity index), and also quantified the factors responsible for changing PET. You can follow the links below to several stories that provide a fuller overview of the findings.


Two New Grants

My colleagues and I are very fortunate to have been awarded two new grants this year, one from NASA and one from NSF. The NASA project will investigate the relationships between recent trends in yields, cropland extent, and climate sensitivity in Zambia’s maize growing sector, while the NSF will fund a larger project by Princeton and Indiana University to study how hydrological and agricultural forecasts can improve short-term farm and water management. See Kelly Caylor’s site for more details.