Can NASA Technology Boost Food Security?

Photo of Graduate Center student Aaron Davitt in front of The Graduate CenterWe take food and farmers for granted. This is what Graduate Center Ph.D. student Aaron Davitt (Earth and Environmental Sciences) hopes more of us will recognize this Earth Day — April 22 — and every day.

Growing up in Colorado, Davitt saw firsthand the devastation wrought by the drought in the early 2000s. Witnessing the damaged crops and farmer’s livelihoods ruined, Davitt resolved to pursue a career that would “contribute to our national food security so that I may be able to help out farmers.”

At The Graduate Center, Davitt is studying remote sensing as a way to monitor crops. His research focuses on the ways the European Space Agency Sentinel-1A/B and NASA’s Landsat-8 and Soil Moisture Active Passive satellites can be used to determine crop and soil conditions in the Central Valley of California and Long Island, New York. California grows a majority of our food but is continually in drought conditions. Long Island is susceptible to extreme precipitation events that can damage crops.

“The goal of my research is to find ways to mitigate the impact of these extremes on our food supply by finding better ways to incorporate remote sensing — whether that be through precision agriculture for the purpose of improved irrigation or better harvesting times for quality food,” Davitt said.

He acknowledges that part of the challenge is effective communication.  

“There is a wealth of information on crop conditions from these satellites, but the stakeholders — farmers — don’t receive that information in a way that allows them to make informed decisions,” he said. “I am passionate about the possibility of turning remote sensing information and data into a useful product for farmers that can allow them to better monitor and manage their crops.”

Food is the basis of a functioning society, Davitt points out, and, in his view, too many people in the United States overlook the resources and labor required to produce it. He hopes that with his research, better education, and greater awareness, we’ll change our ways — at minimum eat those leftovers and stop tossing out edible food — before it’s too late.

How much water are you consuming? 
A graphic of the amount of water it takes to make the foods we consume

Photo by Fahd Alhazmi

Submitted on: APR 20, 2018

Category: Advanced Science Research Center | Earth and Environmental Sciences | General GC News | Student News