News and Updates


Arizona State University researchers use EarthScope data to build the first comprehensive earthquake catalog for Arizona

Earthquakes are among the most destructive and common of geologic phenomena. Several million earthquakes are estimated to occur worldwide each year (the vast majority are too small to feel, but their motions can be measured by arrays of seismometers). Historically, most of Arizona has experienced low levels of recorded seismicity, with infrequent moderate and large earthquakes in the state. Comprehensive analyses of seismicity within Arizona have not been previously possible due to a lack of seismic stations in most regions, contributing to the perception that widespread earthquakes in Arizona are rare. Debunking that myth, a new study published by Arizona State University researchers found nearly 1,000 earthquakes rattling the state over a three-year period.

Jeffrey Lockridge, a graduate student in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the project’s lead researcher, used new seismic data collected as part of the EarthScope project to develop methods to detect and locate small-magnitude earthquakes across the entire state of Arizona. EarthScope’s USArray Transportable Array was deployed within Arizona from April 2006 to March 2009 and provided the first opportunity to examine seismicity on a statewide scale. Its increased sensitivity allowed Lockridge to find almost 1,000 earthquakes during the three-year period, including many in regions of Arizona that were previously thought to be seismically inactive.

“It is significant that we found events in areas where none had been detected before, but not necessarily surprising given the fact that many parts of the state had never been sampled by seismometers prior to the deployment of the EarthScope USArray,” says Lockridge. “I expected to find some earthquakes outside of north-central Arizona, where the most and largest events had previously been recorded, just not quite so many in other areas of the state.”

One-thousand earthquakes over three years may sound alarmingly high, but the large number of earthquakes detected in the study is a direct result of the improved volume and quality of seismic data provided by EarthScope. Ninety-one percent of the earthquakes Lockridge detected in Arizona were “microquakes” with a magnitude of 2.0 or smaller, which are not usually felt by humans. Detecting small-magnitude earthquakes is not only important because some regions experiencing small earthquakes may produce larger earthquakes, but also because geologists use small magnitude earthquakes to map otherwise hidden faults beneath the surface.

Historically, the largest earthquakes and the majority of seismicity recorded within Arizona have been located in an area of north–central Arizona. More recently, a pair of magnitude 4.9 and 5.3 earthquakes occurred in the Cataract Creek area outside of Flagstaff. Earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or larger also have occurred in other areas of the state, including a magnitude 4.2 earthquake in December 2003 in eastern Arizona and a magnitude 4.9 earthquake near Chino Valley in 1976.

“The wealth of data provided by the EarthScope project is an unprecedented opportunity to detect and locate small-magnitude earthquakes in regions where seismic monitoring (i.e. seismic stations) has historically been sparse,” explains Lockridge. “Our study is the first to use EarthScope data to build a regional catalog that detects all earthquakes magnitude 1.2 or larger.”

His results appear in a paper titled, “Seismicity within Arizona during the Deployment of the EarthScope USArray Transportable Array,” published in the August 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. Ramon Arrowsmith and Matt Fouch, professors in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, are Lockridge’s dissertation advisors and coauthors on the paper. Fouch is also a geophysicist at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, DC.

“The most surprising result was the degree to which the EarthScope data were able to improve upon existing catalogs generated by regional and national networks. From April 2007 through November 2008, other networks detected only 80 earthquakes within the state, yet over that same time we found 884 earthquakes, or 11 times as many, which is really quite staggering,” says Lockridge. “It’s one of countless examples of how powerful the EarthScope project is and how much it is improving our ability to study Earth.”

Lockridge is also lead author on a study that focuses on a cluster of earthquakes located east of Phoenix, near Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The results from this study will be published in Seismological Research Letters later this year. In his current studies as doctoral student, Lockridge is using the same methods used for Arizona to develop a comprehensive earthquake catalog for the Great Basin region in Nevada and western Utah.


Image: Nearly 60 USArray stations were installed in Arizona from 2006 to 2009 as part of the EarthScope project. Station 118A, seen in this photo, recorded ground motion north of Wilcox in southeastern Arizona from April 6, 2007 to January 21, 2009. Credit: Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (funded by NSF EarthScope)


(Nikki Cassis)



An article published in Christian Science Monitor August 12 looks at the strong social presence of Curiosity, and then examines whether this mission could impact future generations of students by inspiring them to go into a science-related field.

According to the article, scholars who evaluate the state of science education worry that the United States is falling behind and not preparing students for a future that will depend more on scientific and technological skills.

Experts and scientists hope that the popularity of this Mars mission, one of the first major NASA expeditions with a wide social media presence, will boost interest in science and technology.

They are still figuring out the exact numbers, but it seems that almost 4.5 million people watched the landing on TV and that more than 3.2 million streamed it over the Internet, according to David Seidel, deputy education director for the JPL. Curiosity has more than 240,000 Facebook "likes" and close to 900,000 Twitter followers.

Kip Hodges, a professor and the director of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration in Tempe, says he has high hopes that students will be inspired by the rover. A new research facility at the school is equipped with a 3-D high-definition theater and space to project images streamed from Mars. Mr. Hodges says some scientific disciplines are already growing rapidly, with young people concerned about the environment, and that the cool factor and interactive tools NASA created for Curiosity could attract a lot of interest.

“It’s like the greatest video game in the world, you’re dealing with an avatar on another planet, and one that’s really there,” says Hodges about the mobile Mars laboratory’s appeal.




On Sunday, August 5, NASA successfully landed “Curiosity” rover on the surface of Mars. Kip Hodges, director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, discussed the mission and ASU’s involvement in it, with Arizona Horizon host Ted Simmons.

"We have a deep breach into this mission, which involves hundreds of scientists," says Hodges. "Many of our faculty and students and alumni are involved with actually interpretting the data that comes back over the next couple of years."

Four ASU professors are involved with instruments on the mission. Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa is a co-investigator with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, essentially an analytical chemistry system. Amy McAdam, an alumnus, is also working on SAM. Professor Jack Farmer is a science team member for a different instrument, CheMin, designed to examine the chemical and mineralogical properties of rocks and soils. And professor Alberto Behar is an investigation scientist for the Russian Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument. Professor Jim Bell is a member of the teams operating the rover’s cameras Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) and MastCam.

"Arizona is a pretty magnificent state in regards to its contributions to space exploration, both with what we do and what the University of Arizona does as well," says Hodges. "We're positioning ourselves now at ASU to be able to build more and more effective instruments for space exploration. We just finished some new laboratories in a new building on the campus of ASU that will allow us to do this in a much more profound way than we have in the past. There are only a handful of universities in the US that have the capacity to build space-ready hardware for NASA - ASU is one of them, given our new digs, and University of Arizona."

To watch the entire interview, visit:


Curiosity rover’s successful landing launches the most sustained human study of the planet most like Earth in our solar system

In the late hours of Aug. 5, NASA and space enthusiasts around the world celebrated the successful landing of NASA’s most advanced Mars rover, Curiosity. Known officially as the Mars Science Laboratory, the one-ton, Mini Cooper-size rover set down onto Mars to end a nearly eight-month flight and begin a two-year investigation.

It was event that was watched closely by millions of people in the U.S. and around the world.

Numerous “Mars landing parties” were planned, including one at Arizona State University.

A standing-room-only crowd estimated at more than 150 people jammed the auditorium at ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility to watch as Curiosity touched down in Gale Crater on the Red Planet. When mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the landing, the crowd let out a huge roar of delight.

“The tension in the room was almost palpable. I’m pretty sure everyone was feeling slightly nervous because of how radical the “sky crane” idea was, and how badly we all wanted it to go off without a hitch,” says Benjamin Stinnett, a sophomore majoring in Earth and Space Exploration (Systems Design). “At every sign of good news from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Lab, the entire auditorium erupted into cheering. The news of a safe landing and the first pictures to come back sent a rush of euphoria over the entire crowd. It was a truly momentous occasion.”

The spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars. Instead of the familiar airbag landing systems of the past Mars missions, an innovative sky crane touchdown system was used to softly land the massive rover.

“What an incredible and emotional experience, watching along with hundreds of engineers, scientists, and students as the wild “sky crane” landing system for Curiosity literally unfolded in front of our eyes… flawlessly,” says Jim Bell, a member of the teams operating the rover’s cameras MAHLI, MARDI, and MastCam, who watched the excitement from JPL.

In addition to Bell, three other ASU professors are involved with instruments on the mission.

Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa is a co-investigator with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, essentially an analytical chemistry system. Professor Jack Farmer is a science team member for a different instrument, CheMin, designed to examine the chemical and mineralogical properties of rocks and soils. Professor Alberto Behar is an investigation scientist for the Russian Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument.

“I can’t imagine the impact Curiosity’s successful landing and mission will have on the public, a restoration of faith in NASA’s programs since the retirement of the shuttle program. It inspires me to continue on my path to a career in space exploration,” says Pye Pye Khin Zaw, a senior majoring in Earth and Space Exploration. “Seconds after the landing I whispered to my boyfriend that I wished to someday soon be one of the people in Mission Control, overjoyed and celebrating the success of a mission I dedicated years to, and making a difference in the world. It’s a nice goal to strive toward and one to guide me through the tougher times I face in classes or projects.”

“This was a fantastic achievement, and one that opens an exciting new chapter in Mars exploration,” says Philip Christensen, director of the Mars Space Flight Facility, part of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. He is also principal investigator for the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a multi-band camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. Odyssey is the spacecraft which relayed the landing data directly to Earth as it was happening.

“Over the coming days, weeks, and months we are going to take the rover – and the public – on an incredible voyage through Martian history as we drive through the spectacular layered rocks of Gale crater. We’ll learn about the Red Planet’s watery past, but most importantly, we’ll learn a lot about the history of habitable environments not only on Mars, but on our own planet as well,” says Bell.

(Nikki Cassis)

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech







By Lori Prause

All good stories have adventure, romance, and an unsolvable murder. This story is therefore disqualified as ‘good’, but don’t fret because randomness and humor often are great substitutes.

Our story begins with 16 dwarfs (geology students), three good fairies (very capable teaching assistants), and a Wizard (the wise Professor Sharp). Many of the dwarfs you already know from another classic story, such as Dopey, Sneezy, Grouchy, and Happy, but a few new characters join this tale—Farty , Belchy, Squirmy, Chatty….etc. The good fairies cook and clean, hovering around the dwarfs so they stay safe, have full tummies, and don’t squabble, but their greatest task is to make sure the dwarfs stay focused when they are supposed to be grinding out reports on the rented HP computers. The dwarfs have great respect for the Wizard and try constantly to learn the secrets that churn in his brain, but when they get close to figuring something out, he squints his eyes sideways and says, “Ah……ah………ah.”

Dwarfs naturally belong in the woods, so that is where their tents are pitched. There are tiny, “how-does-a-big-guy-like-you-fit-into-that?” type tents, dome tents that look like the cover to a sewage treatment plants, and a Queen of Sheba tent complete with beads in the doorway and musicians playing tambourines. Then there are the work tents that at night become four glowing oracles, with the soft hum of a Honda 2000 generator in the background. All is well and good until “cough... cough... sputter,” and the lights go out. The dwarfs close their eyes for a three minute nap while one of the good fairies fills the tank with carbon emitting fuel and the lights go back on.

There is a bit of natural selection between the work tents. No assignments were made as to who sits by whom, but like attracts like. There is the “Happy Tent,” filled with screams of Led Zeppelin, belching, and farting, followed by peals of laughter. There is the “Serious Student Tent,” where the dwarfs all have headphones, hunch over their computers with intense glares, and are startled into reality when called for dinner. Lastly, there is the “We Are All in This Together Tent,” where common phrases are heard like “how do you spell...?” and “please pass the white out... again.”

The dwarfs arise early to coffee and a cold breakfast, kindly provided by the good fairies. They pack their lunches, strap on their tool belts, and whistle off to work. Their days are filled with perilous adventures, such as losing a hammer while doing a triple axel into a swimming hole. At times they run into ticked off rattlesnakes that are out looking for a new girlfriend and are annoyed by the dwarfs traipsing around while they are making their moves. The dwarfs are ripped and torn when the evil spirit of Mirkwood Forest comes alive clawing and grabbing at every available body part. As they return to camp, weary and forlorn, the good fairies flutter and conjure up vital refreshing nourishment of Gatorade, pretzels, salsa, and chips.

All was well in the contented little camp until news came of an evil bear beast in the vicinity. Boot-legged snacks and horded delicacies hidden by the dwarfs in their tents were moved into the cars, as to not attract the beast. With trepidation, all went warily off to bed. The first voice heard in the morning was from Baldy, the eldest and wisest dwarf yelling, “Get! Get out of here!” He then stabbed the beast with his lethal laser pointer and it went crying and limping away. Not that no damage was done to Baldy’s tent. This is just one more proof to be added to the volumes of instances already documented that duct tape can fix anything.

The camp is filled with stations. There is the smoking section where art is made in the air with billowing smoke, the Jack and the Bean Stalk station where dwarfs hang from hammocks with stocking caps and wide grins on their faces, the eyebrow plucking station where female dwarfs are saved from the dreaded uni-brow, and the chill out, jam out, stinky feet out station.

The dwarfs have an affinity for rocks because dwarf bodies are composed of nearly 90 percent (by volume) of internal, magical, rock attracting magnetite. They were born that way, so as with all disabilities they should be treated with compassion and understanding. If they see a rock, they pick it up. If they don’t see it, it just jumps into their pockets, tool belt, or backpack. They surround themselves with these ornamental gems. There are rocks on the tables where they work, around the fire ring, in the kitchen, in their computer bags, and in their dreams. No rock is ugly to them. For some reason the pleasure taken in adoring a rock is increased when they hit it violently with a hammer. Then the dwarf smiles at the crumbled waste as the rock’s true beauty is revealed.

Well, all good (and bad) stories come to an end. The work got done at camp and none of the dwarfs were squashed, lost (permanently), eaten, or hung. The good fairies packed up the tents for another day, and the Wizard squinted his eyes sideways, smiled, and said, “Ah…ah……ah.”


For many science undergraduates, research experience can sometimes be difficult to achieve. A number of programs have become available to give undergraduate students much needed research experience, like NASA’s Space Grant program, and others such as the program offered by The Consortium for Undergraduate Research and Education in Astronomy (CUREA).

The CUREA program is run by Paula Turner (Kenyon College), and offered yearly. Designed to prepare undergraduate students for science research, the two-week program at the historic Mt. Wilson Observatory consists of a rigorous astronomy curriculum, combined with several field trips to locations such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology.

This year, two SESE undergrad students, Fran Pavlicko and Ray Sanders, were accepted to the CUREA program. Having access to facilities at Mt. WIlson Observatory, Pavlicko chose to perform solar research using the historic Snow Telescope. By performing detailed spectroscopic analysis, Pavlicko was able to show conclusive evidence for the differential rotation of our sun.

“The entire experience was absolutely incredible, especially for an undergraduate student seeking the necessary knowledge and practical skills needed to perform high quality research having the potential for publishable results. Every staff member involved in this program did an outstanding job teaching and assisting each student, and provided excellent personalized attention that is rarely matched in the traditional university campus setting,” says Pavlicko.

Opting to study the night skies, Sanders chose to perform detailed photometry on an understudied binary star system in the constellation Aquila. By utilizing different color filters, Sanders was able to map changes in the apparent color of the system to the orbital period. Additionally, by collecting data with different color filters, Sanders was able to establish magnitude values that had not been collected for the binary system.

While the program was centered on astronomy research, some time was set aside for fun. In addition to the tours of JPL and Caltech, CUREA participants received several behind-the-scenes tours of key facilities at Mt. WIlson, including the 100” and 60” telescopes, as well as the 60’ and 150’ solar telescope towers. During the program, students had two nights to observe the night skies with the 60” reflecting telescope. Being able to see color in objects like the Ring Nebula, and the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules was a breathtaking experience for the students. When looking at the Moon and Saturn, the views through the custom 4” diameter eyepiece made it feel like an approach in a space ship.

Aside from the workshops and facility tours, many of the CUREA volunteers are established astronomers and researchers, which provided students with valuable mentoring and project feedback. Given the scenic views on Mt. WIlson, highly knowledgeable instructors, and the incredible equipment available, one could find it difficult to leave at the end of the workshop.

"The CUREA program is a great way to gain hands-on experience in making astronomical observations and understanding the process of observational astrophysics research,” says Turner. “The schedule is packed with classes, tours, and observing time - day and night - to help participants make the most of the opportunity to live and work at this historic observatory. And the program is unique, to my knowledge, in its dual focus on solar and stellar astrophysics. Directing this program over the past decade has been the most fun I have doing astronomy."

If you’d like to learn more about the The Consortium for Undergraduate Research and Education in Astronomy (CUREA), visit:

(By Ray Sanders)

Photo of Sanders and Pavlicko


The landing on Mars of Curiosity – NASA's biggest, newest, and most capable rover – will wrap up a STEM learning conference for educators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory by the Mars Education Program of Arizona State University. The Mars Education Program is at the Mars Space Flight Facility, part of the School of Earth and Space Exploration on the Tempe campus.

"Bring 'Curiosity' into your classroom!" is the theme of the conference to take place Aug. 3-5, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on Mars Sunday night, Aug. 5, at 10:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time/Mountain Standard Time.

"Landing on Mars is really hard. No one knows what will happen," says Sheri Klug Boonstra, director of the Mars Education Program and organizer of the conference. "Our goal in this conference is to bring educators to a place where they'll see planetary exploration history being made."

ASU's Mars Education Program, begun in 1992, has helped more than 40,000 students (grades K through early college) learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. The program provides exciting STEM-based activities with a Mars focus; it also gives students authentic research opportunities using a camera orbiting Mars, through its Mars Student Imaging Project.

The program's activities, well-tested and national standards-aligned, key off the excitement of Mars exploration to engage students' interest and teach them scientific methods and thinking.

"We hope that educators who attend will carry back to their classrooms the thrill of exploring Mars," says Klug Boonstra. "And use the classroom activities we'll give them to build their students' skills in STEM subjects."

For more about the conference, go to

Image: ASU's Mars Education Program helps teachers develop STEM skills in their students by bringing the excitement of exploring Mars to the classroom. A conference for educators organized by the Mars Education Program will conclude on August 5 with the landing of NASA's new Mars rover, Curiosity. Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Robert Burnham)


New publication includes essay by Professor Jim Bell

On July 19, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a new volume of the journal Daedalus, titled “Science in the 21st Century,” in which 10 prominent scientists explore emerging advances in their fields and respond to the question, “What secrets will science unlock in the coming decades?”

Among the essays included in the volume is: “The Search for Habitable Worlds: Planetary Exploration in the 21st Century,” by Professor Jim Bell.

In “The Search for Habitable Worlds: Planetary Exploration in the 21st Century,” astronomer and planetary scientist Jim Bell foresees huge breakthroughs within the coming decades in the quest for life-supporting environments beyond Earth. He notes that recent discoveries of organisms able to thrive in environments previously believed too harsh to support life–miles below the ocean’s surface and deep in the Earth’s crust, for example–broaden the possibility that habitable environments exist on other planets. Planetary scientists, Bell writes, have “a list of the ‘greatest hits’ destinations” within our own solar system that will be observable through “more capable (and complex) human exploration.”

Print and Kindle copies of the Summer 2012 Daedalus can be ordered at:


ASU-led team to use cloud platform to deliver drought information to aid risk management

Droughts are more than simply climate phenomena. They can have profound social, environmental, and economic impacts and can also be a major threat to food security throughout the world. Though much progress has been made in monitoring droughts and understanding their causes, there is still a strong need for better precision in both the monitoring and forecasting of droughts. A team lead by Arizona State University researchers seeks to enable the move from a reactive to a more proactive approach to droughts by developing new capabilities to conduct global drought monitoring using satellite detection of water stress and hydrologic models applied at regional scales.

Under the direction of ASU hydrologist Enrique Vivoni, a contingent of ASU researchers is leading a group from NASA Ames, California State University at Monterey Bay and a non-profit research and development organization known as Planetary Skin Institute (PSI) in integrating multi-resolution, remote sensing-based drought indices into an online, cloud computing-based visualization platform.

Vivoni’s research group was selected for a NASA project in the Earth Science Applications: Water Resources competition, which specifically sought projects able to leverage NASA capabilities to advance their skill to monitor, identify, assess, predict, and respond to water resource deficits. The NASA project led by the ASU team will build on a concept prototype seeded by PSI.

“ASU’s portfolio of earth and space research has enabled us to compete at NASA for new efforts in the application of hydrologic remote sensing and informatics,” explains Vivoni, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “We are really excited to be leading a multi-institutional project to develop drought monitoring tools. These will have applications in semiarid regions with large agricultural regions across the world, including in Arizona.

“We have selected to use a water stress index to conduct drought monitoring specifically in drought-prone areas of northwest Mexico and northeast Brazil given their critical importance,” adds Vivoni. “To do so, we will expand the capabilities of a cloud-based geospatial platform to incorporate drought products using remote sensing data and hydrologic model outputs. We hypothesize that the cloud-based platform will be a game-changing approach for drought monitoring, assessment and prediction at a range of scales.”

Teji Abraham, chief development officer for PSI considers “the drought products from this project very complementary and important for the Open Innovation program that PSI is partnering with Brazil's Ministry of Science, Technology, & Innovation – especially for timely risk management given the propensity of drought in northeast Brazil. In collaboration with this group of partners, PSI also intends to extend this new approach in the future to other countries in Asia and Africa that are particularly susceptible to drought.”

Drought Products
The drought products will be spatial maps provided approximately every two weeks that will show drought severity over the two countries of interest (Brazil and Mexico) at high resolution (4 to 8 kilometers) and over the globe at lower resolution (16 to 32 km). The drought maps will be derived from satellite remote sensing observations, specifically the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on board the Earth Observing System Aqua and Terra satellites. These will be complemented with auxiliary data such as irrigation sectors, river basins, stream networks, reservoirs, political boundaries, temperature and precipitation, among others.

This data will be integrated into a cloud-based platform, called Drought ALERTS (short for Automated Land change Evaluation, Reporting and Tracking System). This global visualization system will overlay standard maps with scientific products related to natural resources management for near real-time global detection of water stress at multiple resolutions.

Targeted at national water managers, irrigation districts, policymakers and scientific communities, Drought ALERTS is designed to engage stakeholders and decision-makers in local to regional problems concerned with natural resources and risk management and will provide timely detection of drought events on a global basis with a high degree of accuracy.

“This innovative platform will utilize remote sensing products from low-Earth orbiting satellites to produce drought indices. It will help form the basis for resource allocation decisions and it will be refined over time as we find ways to make it better reflect the needs of decision-makers and others who use the information,” says Vivoni.

“PSI sees this as an important step forward in globally scaling drought monitoring capabilities. In partnership with PSI’s regional partners, we expect this project to help bridge the gap between scientists and decision makers by integrating drought data products into a decision planning environment that enables the data to be analyzed in context for making holistic decisions,” adds Abraham.

Current drought monitors, such as the US drought monitor, rely on assembling precipitation data from rain gauges throughout a region about once every week. The US drought monitor is a great resource that has improved US-based efforts with respect to what was available even five years ago; however, this can lead to large errors in developing countries as instrument networks there are sparse or inconsistent. Remote sensing products provide an alternative view of drought by making inferences based on vegetation status and land surface temperature.

Drought ALERTS, and similar products, could serve as the backbone of national drought monitoring in many developing countries to improve drought detection, awareness and decision-making capabilities. For example, the study areas in northwest Mexico and northeast Brazil are currently undergoing severe multi-year droughts affecting agricultural production. These advances can yield significant cost savings through reduced risks across several water demand sectors including food production and security, hydropower generation, and natural ecosystem services.

End Users
The end users will range from local to country-level decision makers that are involved in water, land and natural resources management. Vivoni and his collaborators have partnered with a large irrigation district in Mexico and a federal emergency management agency in Brazil that are interested in drought forecasts.

“The Yaqui Valley Irrigation District in Sonora, Mexico is a major producer of wheat. The Center for Monitoring of Natural Disasters in Brazil is a new agency in charge of nation-wide alerts. Both of these institutions – and others that will join as the program develops – will have access to tailored scientific products related to drought,” explains Vivoni.

Users will be able to query, visualize and plot metrics that explore the different dimensions of drought, including the precipitation and temperature forcing and the vegetation response. Summary statistics, such as drought duration and intensity, will be provided to help them gauge the level of the threat.

Drought monitoring is but the first step in a larger vision. Vivoni intends to expand this drought effort into a hydrological risk monitoring platform that also deals with floods, landslides, erosion potential, etc. to provide a more complete picture of global water excess and water limitations.

“Eventually, the drought monitor will also help our undergraduate and graduate students interact, query and explore real-time remote sensing data that describe changes in the hydrological cycle over their regions of interest. By bringing research products into classroom activities, our student learning experiences will be enriched,” adds Vivoni.

For more information:
ASU Hydrology:
Planetary Skin Institute:
NASA Applied Sciences Program website:

Caption: PSI ALERTS, a platform for visualizing natural resources and aiding decisions. Here, ALERTS shows vegetation disturbances derived from 1-kilometer MODIS (gridded maps), the locations of identified disturbances (circles) and Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) time series at a disturbance location. Credit: Planetary Skin Institute


(Nikki Cassis)


The Arizona Daily Star's Centennial salute to science in Arizona runs all summer. Each day, for 100 days, they'll record a milestone in the state's scientific history. On July 19, Phil Christensen was highlighted for his remote sensing instruments that helped find proof that water once existed on Mars.


Read the full story here