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ESA-Funded Research Shows Crop Nutrition Measurement From Space

European Space Agency (ESA) funded research shows that the Earth Observation Mission, Copernicus Sentinel-2, and the Italian Hyperspectral Mission, Prisma identified the potential of using satellites to monitor crop nutrients over large areas to help farmers take necessary steps to boost the quality of the crops they grow.

Parvathy Pillai
The research will help the world suffering from various types of malnutrition suffered by billions (Image Courtesy: Freepik)
The research will help the world suffering from various types of malnutrition suffered by billions (Image Courtesy: Freepik)

European Space Agency (ESA) funded research shows that the Earth Observation Mission, Copernicus Sentinel-2, and the Italian Hyperspectral Mission, Prisma, can be used to monitor the nutritional content of staple crops like rice, soya, and wheat in order to help farmers take necessary steps to boost the quality of the crops they grow.

This further will help the world suffering from various types of malnutrition suffered by billions.

Causes of Malnutrition

It has been noted that malnutrition from a lack of micronutrients such as potassium and calcium is affecting more than two billion people, which is over 25% of the global pollution. This kind of malnutrition is particularly seen in those relying on crop-based diets and have limited access to nutrient-rich food.

It is sometimes also referred to as 'hidden hunger' as many people may be consuming enough calories but not getting sufficient vitamins and nutrients.

This can lead to serious health problems, including impaired physical and mental development, increased susceptibility to various diseases, and even premature death.

Conventional Methods for Nutrition Measurement

There are various standard methods for measuring nutrient concentration which usually involves collecting grain during the harvesting period and analyzing the samples in a laboratory. These processes make this method costly and time-consuming to apply on a large scale.

In addition to this, since these nutrients are measured after harvest, they prevent effective intervention with fertilizers while the crop is still growing.

Research to Monitor Crop Nutrients from Space

To overcome the said circumstances, scientists from the University of Twente in the Netherlands and the National Research Council of Italy led research identified the potential of using satellites to monitor crop nutrients over large areas which would also give sufficient time for farmers to intervene with fertilizers or other agricultural practices before they actually harvest.

The research is supported by an ESA Earth Observation Science for Society project called ‘HyNutri Sensing Hidden Hunger with Sentinel-2 and Hyperspectral’.

Most satellite optical sensors use a few broad spectral bands that are not sensitive to crop nutritional content. However, the hyperspectral instrument carried on the Italian Space Agency’s Prisma mission and the multispectral instrument carried on the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission are sensitive to features related to the nutritional content, with their different spectral bands showing varying levels of sensitivity.

The research team selected a test site in the Po Valley in Italy that focused on four crops including rice, corn, wheat, and soybean. Afterwards, they compared signals in the satellite data that related nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and potassium with nutrients measured in the laboratory.

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