ESS2C Roles of Water in Earth Surface Processes: Too Much or Too Little irrigation?

Created by NASA Wavelength Last updated 5/11/2018

Farmers and their crops, along with the surface fresh water supplies on which they both rely, are benefiting from the thermal imagers aboard NASA’s Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 satellites. Discover how data from those instruments can determine evapotranspiration rates- and how farmers are using that information to maximize the efficiency of crop irrigation while conserving the freshwater supply. The resources listed below align to NGSS standards ESS2C (The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes) and ESS3C (Human Impacts on Earth Systems). Together the resources will lead students through a review of the water cycle, an examination of Landsat images, an understanding of evapotranspiration- and an appreciation of how earth, space, physical and biological sciences impact food production as well as the livelihoods of farmers.

This list supports the following national standards:
Next Generation Science Standards
  • Satellite Imagery Sheds Light on Agricultural Water Use | NASA

    Introduce the connections between surface-freshwater supplies, crop irrigation, and evapotranspiration by having students read this article from the website. In it, students will learn how satellite data is helping to map – and understand – those connections.
  • SVS: Evapotranspiration from Landsat

    NASA’s Science Visualization Studio used Landsat data to create the images of an agricultural region in Idaho used in this article. Have your students view and interpret the images to discover how evapotranspiration causes irrigated fields to appear cooler in a thermal image.
  • Water Use On Idaho’s Snake River Plain : Image of the Day

    For water managers, measuring water use comes down to measuring evaporation and transpiration, or evapotranspiration. This Earth Observatory entry provides a quick glimpse into how evapotranspiration allows crop water usage to be monitored along the Snake River Plain in south central Idaho.
  • Water Watchers : Feature Articles

    This article, featured on NASA’s Earth Observatory website, provides students with insights into the significance and applications of the information provided by Landsat’s thermal imagers. Discover how some of the most detailed information on the amount of water consumed by farmers comes not from water meters on the ground, but from space-based estimates of the evaporation of water from soil and plants.
  • Think Scientifically: The Sun and The Water Cycle

    The sun plays a starring role in the water cycle. Its role in evaporation and transpiration (evapotranspiration) is key to understanding the use of Landsat’s thermal imagers. Readers are invited to join two sisters, Marisol and Sofia, as they explore the Sun’s role in the water cycle.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4B/E3, 4B/M7
  • Modeling your Water Balance

    Students create a physical model illustrating soil water balance using drinking glasses to represent the soil column, and explain how the model can be used to interpret data and form predictions. Using data from the GLOBE Data Server, they calculate the potential evapotranspiration, average monthly temperatures and precipitation for their model.
    AAAS Benchmarks: 4B/M7
  • Earth System in a Bottle

    In this hands-on investigation of the water cycle, students build terrariums to study the impact of water, sunlight and soil on plants. Although evapotranspiration is not specifically measured, this miniature “farm” helps to illustrate the importance of water, sunlight and soil to plant growth and survival.
    AAAS Benchmarks: , , , 1A/E2, 8A/P1bc, 5C/P2
  • Plant and Soil Sciences eLibrary:: Print Lesson

    Geared more toward the high school level, or those specifically interested in agricultural studies, this examination of crop water use provides definitions, explanations, graphs, and applications of evapotranspiration. Students will gain a better understanding of the importance of evapotranspiration to both plant growth and to the efforts of farmers to both provide food and conserve water.