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M. Susan Moran, Bradley Doorn, Vanessa Escobar, and Molly E. Brown

Abstract

The National Research Council (NRC) recently highlighted the dual role of NASA to support both science and applications in planning Earth observations. This article reports the efforts of the NASA Applied Sciences Program and NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission to integrate applications with science and engineering in prelaunch planning. The SMAP Early Adopter program supported the prelaunch applied research that comprises the SMAP Special Collection of the Journal of Hydrometeorology. This research, in turn, has resulted in unprecedented prelaunch preparation for SMAP applications and critical feedback to the mission to improve product specifications and distribution for postlaunch applications. These efforts have been a learning experience that should provide direction for upcoming missions and set some context for the next NRC decadal survey.

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John D. Hottenstein, Guillermo E. Ponce-Campos, Julio Moguel-Yanes, and M. Susan Moran

Abstract

Intra-annual precipitation patterns are expected to shift toward more intense storms and longer dry periods because of changes in climate within future decades. Using satellite-derived estimates of plant growth combined with in situ measurements of precipitation and soil moisture between 1999 and 2013, this study quantified the relationship between intra-annual precipitation patterns, annual average soil moisture (at 5-cm depth), and plant growth at nine grassland sites across the southern United States. Results showed a fundamental difference in the response to varying precipitation patterns between mesic and semiarid grasslands. Surface soil moisture in mesic grasslands decreased with an increase of high-intensity storms, whereas in semiarid grasslands, soil moisture decreased with longer dry periods. For these sites, annual average soil moisture was a better indicator of grassland production than total annual precipitation. This improved ability to predict variability in soil moisture and plant growth with changing hydroclimatic conditions will result in more efficient resource management and better-informed policy decisions.

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