Extracting Agronomic Information from SMOS Vegetation Optical Depth in the US Corn Belt Using a Nonlinear Hierarchical Model

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Lewis-Beck, Colin
Walker, Victoria
Caragea, Petrutza
Hornbuckle, Brian
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Niemi, Jarad
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As leaders in statistical research, collaboration, and education, the Department of Statistics at Iowa State University offers students an education like no other. We are committed to our mission of developing and applying statistical methods, and proud of our award-winning students and faculty.
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The Department of Agronomy seeks to teach the study of the farm-field, its crops, and its science and management. It originally consisted of three sub-departments to do this: Soils, Farm-Crops, and Agricultural Engineering (which became its own department in 1907). Today, the department teaches crop sciences and breeding, soil sciences, meteorology, agroecology, and biotechnology.

The Department of Agronomy was formed in 1902. From 1917 to 1935 it was known as the Department of Farm Crops and Soils.

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  • Department of Farm Crops and Soils (1917–1935)

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Remote sensing observations that vary in response to plant growth and senescence can be used to monitor crop development within and across growing seasons. Identifying when crops reach specific growth stages can improve harvest yield prediction and quantify climate change. Using the Level 2 vegetation optical depth (VOD) product from the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite, we retrospectively estimate the timing of a key crop development stage in the United States Corn Belt. We employ nonlinear curves nested within a hierarchical modeling framework to extract the timing of the third reproductive development stage of corn (R3) as well as other new agronomic signals from SMOS VOD. We compare our estimates of the timing of R3 to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey data for the years 2011, 2012, and 2013. We find that 87%, 70%, and 37%, respectively, of our model estimates of R3 timing agree with USDA district-level observations. We postulate that since the satellite estimates can be directly linked to a physiological state (the maximum amount of plant water, or water contained within plant tissue per ground area) it is more accurate than the USDA data which is based upon visual observations from roadways. Consequently, SMOS VOD could be used to replace, at a finer resolution than the district-level USDA reports, the R3 data that has not been reported by the USDA since 2013. We hypothesize the other model parameters contain new information about soil and crop management and crop productivity that are not routinely collected by any federal or state agency in the Corn Belt.


This article is published as Lewis-Beck, Colin, Victoria A. Walker, Jarad Niemi, Petruţa Caragea, and Brian K. Hornbuckle. "Extracting Agronomic Information from SMOS Vegetation Optical Depth in the US Corn Belt Using a Nonlinear Hierarchical Model." Remote Sensing 12, no. 5 (2020): 827. doi: 10.3390/rs12050827.

Wed Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2020