Satellites Could Help Keep Hungry Populations Fed

In the early 1980s, scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center , Greenbelt , Md. , developed the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), an innovative combination of two satellite measurements that allowed them to analyze changes in the "greenness" of Earth as viewed from space. Much like measurements from weather satellites allow meteorologists to track and monitor hurricanes, NDVI lets scientists track droughts, crop infestations, and even full-blown crop failures that lead to widespread famine.

Few non-scientists have ever heard of NDVI, yet this vital sign of the planet has important implications for everyone, said Molly Brown, a Goddard scientist who has N-D-V-I emblazoned on her car's license plate. NDVI has been used to study everything from the spread of disease to the archaeological remains of ancient Rome .

Perhaps most important, Brown said, is that this remote sensing tool will play a key part in helping us to keep food on the table as future populations swell, the climate changes, and pressures on the agricultural system mount.

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