Improved irrigation scheduling through airborne detection of water stress
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Innovations in remote sensing offer groundbreaking opportunities for large scale reductions in agricultural water use, and hence also reductions in groundwater overdraft and application of saline irrigation. At Ceres Imaging, through a combination of high-resolution thermal imagery and physiological modeling, we produce a measure of stomatal conductance at the level of individual trees that maps extremely well to on-the-ground measures such as stem water potential (SWP). In highly saline conditions, however, SWP can underestimate actual water stress. We see evidence that our aerial imagery correctly detects trees showing obvious signs of water stress that would have been incorrectly deemed unstressed on the basis of their SWP values. Such technology offers the opportunity to more accurately identify those portions of fields experiencing high water stress, target them for proper irrigation levels, and reduce total water use by curbing irrigation of unstressed portions. This in turn reduces the need for groundwater pumping, and allows for a higher ratio of surface to groundwater use.