A team of interns working as part of NASA's DEVELOP National Program may soon play a critical role in the effort to keep grapes and guacamole on your kitchen table.
Their research project could help the government of Chile allocate water to farmers in the country's Coquimbo region, a major exporter of fruits, including grapes, citrus fruits and avocados.
During an end-of-term closeout presentation on Nov. 14 at NASA's Langley Research Center, the DEVELOP participants from four projects conducted this fall outlined their projects in front of a group of their peers, Virginia state officials and Pedro Béjares, the Agricultural Attaché for the Embassy of Chile.
Like much of Chile, the Coquimbo region, which is known for its fruit exports, has suffered record drought in the past four years. The drought has been particularly problematic in Coquimbo, which already has a semi-arid climate.
The DEVELOP Chile Water Resources Team wants to help address that problem by using two of NASA's remote sensing tools — the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), both aboard the Terra satellite — to provide the Chilean government with an enhanced monitoring and forecasting of snowmelt runoff from the surrounding Andes Mountains.
The team utilized a USDA hydrological forecast model looks at snow cover, precipitation and temperature. And according to team member Josh Kelly, that model allows the team "to forecast daily discharge values very accurately."
Though the Chilean government hasn't begun using the forecasts yet, they're 100 percent behind the program. The DEVELOP team recently traveled to the Chilean embassy in Washington, D.C., to brief diplomats and researchers on their progress.
"They were very impressed with the results," said Kelly, "and they actually want us to continue working on the project and enhance the capability of the model."
In fact, there's already talk of eventually expanding the project beyond Coquimbo.
"They were expressing their gratitude about how much this will help them," said team member Amberle Keith. "And they also mentioned that other regions would like to go ahead and try to do this as well."
Béjares, the Chilean Agricultural Attaché who was on hand for the presentation, said it's been a great experience working with the NASA DEVELOP team. He hopes the decision support tools they have generated will provide a much clearer picture of how much runoff to expect in the Limarí River Basin, the primary irrigator for the entire Coquimbo region, thus allowing the river's surveillance board to better allocate the water.
"If the model is accurate," he said, "they will know how much water there is for all the people who use the water to irrigate their crops. So at the end the users of the information are all the farmers who irrigate with water from the river."
Also on hand to present at the DEVELOP event were teams whose were research focused on agriculture in the Great Plains and the use of temperature data to expand agricultural production in Virginia.
The Virginia Agriculture team is collecting data that will help Virginia grape growers better determine which varieties are best suited for their regions and where to plant their vineyards. It could be a big help to the state's expanding wine industry. According to Virginia's Deputy Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson, the help is welcome.
"We don't have a lot of in-house research capabilities," she said. "And so to be able to tap into DEVELOP to get that brain trust, combined with the data from NASA, has just been a big benefit to our secretary [of technology] and the secretary of agriculture and forestry — and we're really looking forward to growing that relationship."
NASA Langley Research Center