Although mostly unpriced, fresh water is debatably the most valuable resource in the world. Nature dictates that availability of fresh water is fixed and demand continues to rise as populations increase and continue to enrich themselves. Agriculture currently accounts for approximately 70% of the world’s water usage, making drought prediction and water management essential to preserving the world’s most valuable commodity.

Project Drought couples large-scale satellite observations with high-precision measurements of soil moisture content collected from low-flying unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to improve drought prediction. In collaboration with the CU Boulder Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) and Center for Environmental Technology (CET), and drawing on CU Boulder’s recognized expertise in Atmospheric and Environmental sciences, this project will improve understanding and prediction of drought, flooding, and agricultural vulnerabilities to changes in near-surface water dynamics and support development of precision agricultural practices. Collected Information will be processed by CU Boulder’s Earth Lab to provide insight to a variety of researchers and industry partners, including agriculturalists, hydrologists, and flood and drought forecasters.

Goals of Project

  • Collection of soil-moisture data at 5-20 cm depth with 15 meter resolution via Tempest small UAS to complement 5-cm depth, 40-km resolution NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite data processed by CU Boulder Earth Lab and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
  • Development of a small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS), in collaboration with Black Swift Technologies, for soil-moisture measurement for high-resolution studies of permafrost melt and landslide risk
  • Prototyping of integration capabilities between sUAS and SMAP for soil-moisture mapping, improving capacity to provide early warning of drought and precision agriculture
  • Development of analytical tools to visualize SMAP and Tempest UAS derived Soil moisture data and integrate these new views of the Earth’s surface into land use decision-making via the Earth Lab Analytics Hub

Primary Contact

Albin Gasiewski, Professor, Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering (ECEE), Director, Center for Environmental Technology (CET) | | 303-492-9688

Researchers & Collaborators

Albin Gasiewski, Professor, Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering (ECEE), Director, NOAA-CU Center for Environmental Technology (CET) University of Colorado, Boulder, Electromagnetics, RF and Microwaves, Remote Sensing

Brian Argrow, Professor, Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES), University of Colorado, Boulder
Mission-derived unmanned aircraft systems design, high-speed & hypersonic aerodynamics, dense gas dynamics, rarefied gas dynamics

Eric Frew, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES), University of Colorado, Boulder
Networked heterogeneous unmanned aircraft systems, optimal distributed sensing by mobile robots, controlled mobility in ad-hoc sensor networks, miniature self-deploying systems, guidance and control of unmanned aircraft in complex atmospheric phenomena

Nichole Barger, Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder
Terrestrial plant ecology, soil biogeochemistry, dendrochronology, structure and function of dryland ecosystems, sustainable restoration and management of ecosystems

Research Facilities

Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV)

RECUV is a university, government, and industry partnership dedicated to development and application of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Facilities include the Mobile Research Collaboratory (MRC), an indoor flying-robot lab, a systems-integration lab, ground-based LIDAR capability, and a fixed-wing and rotary-wing unmanned aircraft fleet integrated with a variety of sensors. RECUV also possesses the most expansive university network of FAA Certificates of Authorization (COAs), allowing UAS operation and research over more than 100,000 square miles of space in Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Alaska.

Center for Environmental Technology (CET)

The Center for Environmental Technology was established in 2006 within the CU Boulder Engineering School U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support the development of advanced environmental sensors for use by governments, industry, and academia. CET provides expertise for the development of new in situ and remote sensing concepts and systems through cross-linkages with faculty across the CU campus and collaborators within the CU Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES)and the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL). Laboratory capability includes cutting edge Ground-based Scanning Radiometer (GSR) and Polarimetric Scanning Radiometer (PSR) equipment for collection of environmental data.


Black Swift Technologies (BST)

BST is a Boulder-based engineering firm, founded by CU Boulder Alumni, specializing in high capability small unmanned aircraft systems. BST leverages a history of collaboration with CU Boulder in UAS atmospheric research and provides a broad range of UAS support including Avionics and Ground Support, Customized User Interface, Airframe Selection and Integration, and Flight Management Software. BST is collaborating with CU Boulder in a Phase 2 SIBR Project to provide compact, low-cost UAV-based sensor systems for soil moisture measurement down to ~5 cm in depth at up to 15 meter resolution.

Research Partners

Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS)
NOAA-CU Center for Environmental Technology (CET)
NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL)
National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)