Devastating African Droughts Seen from Space

The European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite has shone the spotlight on just how dire the drought in countries like Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti really is, with tens of thousands of people now looking for succour and refuge in neighbouring countries.

The animation, derived from SMOS satellite data, shows soil moisture in the Horn of Africa from April to mid-July 2011. The orange and yellow colouring depicts little to no moisture, while green and blue depict higher levels of soil moisture. Credits: CESBIO/ESA

ESA’s SMOS satellite shows that the region’s soil is simply too dry to grow crops, even in the wake of the rainy season just past.

Average monthly rainfall in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, located on the southern coast. The country usually has two rainy seasons: the main one from April to July called gu, and the second from October to December called dayr.

Credits: Data compiled by Somalia Water and Land Information Management

The SMOS satellite showed that Somalia’s soil appears dry during the 2011 main rainy season; in particular, and most frustratingly, in the southern main agricultural region.

Somalia is known as being an arid country – as well as being a country home to turmoil and strife – but the northwest and south receive reasonable amounts of rain in a normal year. Sadly, 2011 is not a normal year, and is heightening the pressure on the countries population.

SMOS showed that there was little to no moisture in surface soil in some key areas during the key rainy season of April to July.

“The SMOS measurements in such areas are probably two to four times more accurate than those with other satellite sensors or models,” said Yann Kerr, SMOS lead scientist for soil moisture at the CESBIO centre for studying Earth’s biosphere from space in Toulouse, France.

Other instruments show the lead up over the past 20 years to the Horn of Africa’s current dry spell. In the final months of 2010, soil moisture was lower than average in areas over Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia, causing crops to fail, livestock death and starvation for the populace.

Not to mention the fact that Somalia can’t seem to stop fighting amongst itself.

This animation compares soil moisture data from each month in 2010 to the 20-year monthly average. The shades of red represent varying degrees of lower than normal soil moisture in 2010 compared to the past 20 years, while the shades of blue indicate higher than normal soil moisture. These data were provided by the WACMOS project. Credits: WACMOS

Source: European Space Agency

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