University of Montana researchers get $750K grant for hydrology, drought research

University of Montana researchers get $750K grant for hydrology, drought research

Source: Missoulian
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University of Montana researchers received a $750,000 NASA grant that will help them understand how farmers in the state make decisions about crops and irrigation in the face of drought.

A team of researchers will study hydrology on Montana’s agricultural lands in a project that will inform water policy and show how farming impacts water security, said UM geosciences researcher Marco Maneta.

He said the study will use information from sensors mounted in satellites — and takes remote sensing technology to another level.

“Remote sensing has been used in the past to observe the state of crops, but not to understand the economic behavior of farmers,” Maneta said Thursday.

According to UM, the research will inform farmers across the nation.

“This research will help Montana develop new state-of-the-art technology to tackle the water challenges faced by farmers across the country,” stated a news release from UM.


Most agriculture in the state is fed by rain, said Maneta, principal investigator. In order to maximize revenues, he said farmers have to make decisions about the types of crops to grow, how much land to use for each product and how much to irrigate on different parcels.

Maneta said the results will shed light on the resiliency of farmers and how they respond to drought cycles and low prices. How did farmers confront water shortages in the past? What water policies might promote adaptation and resiliency?

Traditionally, such studies were conducted on individual farms, but such surveys are expensive to employ across the state, he said.

The team from UM, Montana State University in Bozeman, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will evaluate roughly three decades of images from the late 1980s or early 1990s to the present to see how crops and acreage statewide have changed over time, he said.

The study also will include 10 or 15 years of information on market conditions and climatology.

The research will show how farmers might react to different water policies or decisions made by legislators or land resource managers, Maneta said. It also may be able to predict how farmers will respond to long drought cycles, such as the one taking place in northeast Montana, he said.

He said researchers hope to understand what makes some regions and farmers better equipped to weather adverse events.

The grant is through NASA’s EPSCoR program, which stands for Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

Researchers will report preliminary results at a conference in December and may be able to share initial findings within a few months. The team aims to be able to keep the data updated as well.

UM geoscientists Brian Chaffin, John Kimball, and Kelsey Jencso, and MSU’s Bruce Maxwell and Stephanie Ewing also are working on the study, according to UM.