MISSOULA – Researchers in the geosciences department at the University of Montana received a $750,000 NASA EPSCoR grant to develop and apply remote sensing technologies to study hydrology on Montana’s agricultural lands. The research will provide insight into the state agricultural system’s resiliency to drought while studying the impact of agricultural activity on the hydrologic cycle, water security and other users.

UM geoscientists Marco Maneta, Brian Chaffin and John Kimball, as well as Bruce Maxwell and Stephanie Ewing of Montana State University, will team up with hydrologists at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to carry out the research.

Rendition of Landsat 8 as passes over the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of NASA’s GSFC.

They will integrate NASA technologies and advanced computer models to understand and anticipate how farmers allocate resource – such as land, water and fertilizer – to accommodate new or reduced access to water, and to understand how their decisions impact river flows and water users downstream. This research will help Montana develop new state-of-the-art technology to tackle the water challenges faced by farmers across the country.

“This will help us understand how farmers use water and land when confronted with water shortages, policy interventions or shifts in agricultural markets,” said Maneta, the study’s principal investigator. “It will also allow us to simulate the impact of a range of climate and agricultural market scenarios on agricultural water use and revenues in Montana, and to inform water policy that promotes agricultural adaptation and resiliency. Understanding imbalances in the water supply and demand systems is a key component of addressing the vulnerability of Montana’s farming system.”