NASA Podcasts

Science for a Hungry World: The View from Space
09.23.09
 
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For other episodes in the "Science for a Hungry World" series, click here.

[Music begins]

Narrator: In 2008, the world experienced what has been referred to as a perfect storm of both natural and human events. Droughts in grain producing nations, increased demand for meat, the lowest reserve of food staocks on record, and rising fuel prices led to what is referred to as the 2008 global food crisis. In the United States, the results were $4.00 per gallon gasoline and higher costs for food staples. In some regions of the world, people saw their cost of food double or even triple. How did a world so rich with food end up with such a vast problem? To uncover the answers, it pays to step back -- far back -- and get a global perspective. NASA satellites, monitoring our planet from space, are in the perfect place to help us see the global picture. Agriculture, the process of growing food and fuel, is usually far more complex then simply growing something and getting it to market.

Brad Doorn: Because it's an integrated system now and we have to tie markets, economies, food aid, political issues, and yes, making sure we have a stable economy and we have enough food to eat here. All those things tied together require us to have a very good system of being able to monitor crops and food supply. us to have a very good system of being able to monitor crops and food supply.

Molly Brown: When you bring together all the actors, the people in the local communities, the national government, the international actors, all the NGOs and you bring them into a room, the thing that everyone can really agree on the most is the remote sensing derived production information.

Narrator: One of the best ways to gauge world food production at any given time is to monitor from space literally how green food-producion regions are. By looking at the green-ness of a particular area, scientists are able to tell how much photosynthesis is occurring. Therefore, providing an indicator of how lucrative the harvest will be.

Molly Brown: If you look at the terabytes of data that come out of the sky every day, the most commonly used index is the vegetation index, vegetation index. developed in the late 1970s by Dr. Compton Tucker and his team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI.

Compton Tucker: When you have these data you are also able to look at where you have better conditions for plant growth and worse conditions, and this is where these data become really useful to look at agricultural production and agricultural shortfalls because you have this history over many years. And you know these were good years, these were bad years; the present year is somewhere in between, so on and so forth.

Molly Brown: It's a really interesting indicator because it lets us see the health and the productivity of plants at a wide variety of scales.

Brad Doorn: What it does, is it opens up to all those decision makers who have to make decisions about their crops now, they can be now serviced a lot better with this new real time system.

Narrator: But NASA looks at more than just how green our planet is day-to-day. In the remaining five episodes of this video series, we will examine, in depth, how remote sensing satellite data gives us a clearer picture of how our fragile natural resources, such as rainforests, are being affected by changing agricultural practices. How communities, facing disaster, famine or human strife may be able to get access to food, how precious water resources are being used around the world, and even how our changing climate might alter the future of food in the wake of the recent crisis. By using satellites to better understand how agriculture works today, we are better prepared to face the challenges of climate change and increasing population sizes to ensure the world has food on the table tomorrow.

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