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How Joint OU, NASA Project Could Help Oklahoma’s Energy, Agriculture Industry

Berrien Moore, vice president of the University of Oklahoma’s weather and climate programs, talks with Sean Crowell, senior research scientist, at the school’s campus in Norman Friday.
Brent Fuchs
/
The Journal Record
Berrien Moore, vice president of the University of Oklahoma’s weather and climate programs, talks with Sean Crowell, senior research scientist, at the school’s campus in Norman Friday.";s:

NASA has awarded a five-year, $166 million grant to the University of Oklahoma to study how carbon interacts with the land, the atmosphere, and the ocean.

OU says the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCARB) will monitor plant health and vegetation stress across North and South America. The satellite 22,000 miles above the equator will also study the sources and processes controlling carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane in Earth's atmosphere. 

The space-based observatory could help farmers and their crops, The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

A secondary benefit would be the measurement of invisible light given off by plants as they convert sunlight into food. This solar-induced fluorescence is an indicator of plant stress, [OU vice president of weather and climate programs Berrien] Moore said. “That means we get a direct measure of photosynthesis,” he said. “So if a plant gets into drought stress, that fluorescence will change right away. It won’t wait until the plant wilts; it changes right away.” The information would be beneficial to farmers, said Garfield County Extension Educator Rick Nelson. “That could make a difference in a subsequent plan for that crop,” Nelson said. “If it’s obvious that it’s not going to make to grain, then that crop possibly could be harvested as a forage crop.” Irrigation practices could also be modified if farmers learn how much of their crops are being affected by drought.

Moore’s senior research scientist Sean Crowell says the energy industry could also benefit from the project’s collection of trace gas data:

Instead of sending crews and handheld devices to find natural gas leaks, the observatory will be able to do the same over a wider area, with a 14-day lag to crunch the numbers. “We’re going to be able to see it at a 3-kilometer resolution, and that’s going to provide information that energy companies are going to want to know,” Crowell said. “They can’t go to every single field site to find leaks, which is lost money to them.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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