Agriculture, Water, and Natural Resources

Subsidence Tracking
NASA JPL prepares subsidence maps for California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reports. These satellite and radar data show that land continues to sink in certain areas of the San Joaquin Valley, putting state and federal aqueducts and flood control structures at risk of damage. NASA JPL also tracked subsidence rates in the San Joaquin Valley during the recent historic drought, showing that two main subsidence bowls, covering hundreds of square miles, grew wider and deeper between 2015-2016.

Snowpack Measurement
The NASA JPL Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) uses satellite data to estimate the amount of water accumulating each year in California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, and the rate of water melt, providing real-time, high-resolution maps to complement manual surveys. These data are used at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and other facilities to improve modeling estimates of future water runoff — and will guide more efficient operations and water usage in California under conditions spanning flood to drought.

Water Data
Berkeley Lab, DWR, UC Water, and CCST are partners in the Open and Transparent Water Data workshops spawned by AB 1755 (2016), seeking to improve water data management across the state.

Tapping Into the Water Cycle
Berkeley Lab has developed advanced models for resource managers to predict the timing and location of rainfall and snowpack, and how California’s watersheds distribute this water, including prediction of watershed responses to extreme events such as droughts and floods. Berkeley Lab also is partnering with universities and the agricultural sector to develop ways of optimizing groundwater storage, withdrawal, and pumping, based on where and when it is needed by cities and farms.

Desalination for Remediation
Berkeley Lab is developing low-cost desalination technologies capable of stripping the salt out of brackish groundwater in the Central Valley, leaving farmers with a more reliable source of irrigation water while lowering the rate of salt buildup in the soil.

Contaminated Water Treatment
NASA Ames has developed a portable, low-cost method that recycles liquids by processing and removing contaminants. Their system can process urine into an emergency supply of drinking water.

Improving Crop Yields and Carbon Storage
In seeking to understand microbe-soil-plant interactions in natural and working lands, Berkeley Lab is using electrical currents to noninvasively image the structure, size, and distribution of plant roots within the soil. The technology lets scientists observe nutrient absorption by crop roots, revealing ways to increase soil health for agricultural and natural resource managers. Another technology uses radiation detection to measure soil carbon content at the scale of mere inches. This technology was inspired by sensors used in homeland security for detecting explosives in cargo. Combined, these innovations will provide growers and researchers a “window into the soil” to understand how crops access carbon and other nutrients, leading to enhancements in crop yields and soil carbon storage.

Algal Fuel Farming
Seeking to improve yields of algal crops for biofuel and bioplastics production, researchers at LLNL, Sandia California, the Berkeley Lab’s Joint Genome Institute, and UC Davis are developing “probiotic” treatments to control the levels of algae-destroying microorganisms in algal farm ponds. These miniature pests can cause as much as a 30 percent drop in algal yield, adding to production costs and increasing biofuel prices. The team believes that these treatments — which will need to be tailored and tested for full-scale farm operations — can lead to a 10 percent increase in annual productivity for algal farms.

Under a Microscope
SLAC is using its Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) to study how chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing interact with shale to form precipitates that can clog pores, ultimately shutting down natural gas production. They are also investigating how contaminants such as uranium and radium are released from the rock. With the SSRL, scientists can examine pore structure down to very small scales, and analyze the chemical composition of these precipitates and contaminants.



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Updated: 2018.02.13