NOAA 2001-102
Contact: Patricia Viets


A new satellite-based method for early detection, monitoring and analysis of drought shows that nearly 20 percent of the world's landmass has been stricken by drought over the past two years, according to scientists at the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists at NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service in Camp Springs, Md., used solar radiation detected from an instrument onboard NOAA's polar orbiting satellites, called the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. The solar radiation was observed in three wavelengths of the solar spectrum — visible, near infrared and thermal – to study vegetation health, moisture, and thermal conditions.

"Satellite data are important to our understanding of the world's climate, particularly in regions of the world where routine surface measurements are sometimes difficult to obtain," said Felix Kogan, the NOAA scientist who developed the new drought detection methodology. "This method has been tested worldwide for eight years and has proven to be an excellent vehicle for early drought detection and monitoring, as well as for assessing the impacts of droughts."

NOAA is providing information on drought to customers around the world. Many countries in Africa, Asia and North America experienced the effects of two-year droughts.

Long, intensive spring and summer dryness developed in the southern and western United States (and neighboring regions of Canada) during 2000 and 2001 with Texas experiencing severe droughts. Satellite data identified large areas in the Northwest that were vulnerable to intensive fire activity. During the two-year period, active fires consumed large areas of forested land.

In the Horn of Africa, early drought signs were recorded in January 2000. Over the next four months, the drought expanded and intensified, creating food shortages and outbreak of disease that affected millions of inhabitants in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and other regions.

In Asia, crop producing regions and rangelands of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, Mongolia and China were severely hit by spring and summer dryness during 2000 and 2001. The worst situation was observed in Afghanistan and Pakistan where approximately 60 and 40 percent of these countries, respectively, suffer from intensive drought in 2001. Unusual summer dryness also affected countries in the Caspian Sea region.

The new method of drought detection and monitoring has been recognized by the global scientific and operational community and has been publicized by the American Meteorological Society, UN-based organizations and international remote sensing publications. NOAA's data are widely distributed to the United States and global institutions provided through the NOAA Web site:

NESDIS is the nation's primary source of space-based meteorological and climate data. NESDIS operates the nation's environmental satellites, which are used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring, and other environmental applications such as fire detection, ozone monitoring, and sea surface temperature measurements. NESDIS also operates three data centers, which house global data bases in climatology, oceanography, solid earth geophysics, marine geology and geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics and paleoclimatology.

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