Drought monitoring: a system for tracking plant available soil moisture based on the Oklahoma Mesonet

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Tyson Ochsner
Jeff Basara
Brad Illston
Chris Fiebrich
Albert Sutherland


Real-time drought monitoring is essential for early detection and adaptive management to mitigate the negative impacts of drought on the people, economy, and ecosystems of Oklahoma, and improved drought monitoring is a key need identified in the 1995 Update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan. Drought impacts can be severe in Oklahoma. For example, the 2006 drought cost the state's economy over $500 million from lost crop production alone. While drought monitoring is critical to Oklahoma's resource managers, it is hampered by a lack of data on a crucial drought indicator: plant available water. Crop yield losses and, by extension, the economic impacts of drought, are strongly linked to plant available water. Plant available water (PAW) is the amount of soil moisture currently in the profile which is available for plant uptake. Some water is held so strongly by the soil that it is not available to plants.
The long term goal of the team of collaborators representing Oklahoma State University, the Oklahoma Mesonet, the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, and the University of Oklahoma is to develop the Mesonet as an innovative tool for understanding and managing the water resources of Oklahoma. The objective of this proposal is to bring to completion a first-generation drought monitoring system for Oklahoma based on PAW. The rationale for the proposed research is that providing resource managers with daily data on PAW will enable them to adopt management strategies to mitigate drought impacts. The proposal team is well prepared to succeed with this project due to the extensive expertise and strong achievement records in soil moisture related research, leadership in managing the Oklahoma Mesonet, and experience in the development of online products through the popular websites www.mesonet.org and www.agweather.mesonet.org.

Article Details

Author Biographies

Tyson Ochsner, Oklahoma State University

Asst. Professor, Soil Physics
Plant and Soil Sciences
Oklahoma State University

Jeff Basara, Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Director of Research
Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Brad Illston, Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Research Associate
Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Chris Fiebrich, Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Associate Director for Mesonet
Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Albert Sutherland, Oklahoma State University

OSU Mesonet Agricultural Coordinator
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
Oklahoma State University