Monitoring soil moisture from high and low

NASA's SMAP Satellite Monitors Texas Drought and Flood
NASA's soil monitoring satellite provides important information to LCRA and other water planners in both droughts and floods.

LCRA is teaming with NASA and other partners to get a better view of conditions below the Earth's surface.

Working with The University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences, LCRA is collecting soil moisture data from several locations in the Texas Hill Country as part of the Texas Soil Observation Network (TxSON) and NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission.

Data from TxSON and a NASA satellite will provide additional insight for monitoring droughts and managing floods.

This LCRA Hydromet gauge near Willow City in Gillespie County is one of several Hydromet gauges with soil moisture sensors. The sensors will help confirm soil moisture data taken by a NASA satellite.

In summer 2014, LCRA and UT researchers installed soil moisture sensors at depths of 5, 10, 20 and 50 centimeters at LCRA Hydromet gauges near Fredericksburg in Gillespie County. The LCRA Hydromet is a network of more than 275 weather and river gauges throughout the lower Colorado River basin, from the Texas Hill Country to the Gulf Coast.

UT displays the soil moisture information on the Texas Soil Observation Network website.

NASA launched the SMAP satellite in January 2015 to map soil moisture around the world every two to three days. Sensors at the LCRA gauges and other locations will help verify information collected from the satellite.

The impacts of droughts and floods are linked to soil moisture conditions. When soil is saturated, rainfall runs off more quickly. When soil is dry, the moisture must be replaced before water can run off into nearby streams, and eventually into rivers and lakes.  In the Texas Hill Country, runoff can flow into the Highland Lakes, which is the water supply for more than a million people in the lower Colorado River basin.

LCRA Hydromet soil moisture sensors are buried 5, 10, 20 and 50 centimeters in the ground.

The new ground and satellite data will help LCRA and others better predict runoff, monitor droughts, manage floods and forecast the region's water supply.

LCRA also is collaborating with a research team from the Michigan Technological University and its Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) on how to integrate soil moisture data into real world applications like water management plans and seasonal water availability models.