PhD students get their feet wet in SMAPVEX 2022 field campaign


Most folks with indoor plants may simply touch the soil to see how dry or wet it is. But measuring soil moisture on a larger scale is a crucial process that can play a role in detecting drought, unlikely weather patterns, ideal planting times, and forest fires.

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission is an orbiting observatory (including several satellites) measuring the amount of water on soil surfaces. George Mason PhD students Soelem Bhuiyan and Ishrat Dollan participated in the SMAPVEX 2022 summer field campaign to measure soil moisture under forest canopies.

SMAPVEX22 field campaign

“SMAPVEX22 was designed to collect validation samples of soil moisture,” says Dollan. “The samples will help us better understand SMAP's soil moisture retrieval capability.”

The field campaign took place in Millbrook, New York, and Harvard Forest, Massachusetts. Bhuiyam and Dollan were part of the Millbrook team and spent most of their time on the forest floor collecting soil samples for data analysis.

Previously a water resources engineering undergraduate, Dollan is curious about the changing hydrological cycle.

 “It is critical to accurately estimate each cycle element and comprehend the uncertainties,” she says. “I am grateful to have been assigned to a team of dedicated and energetic individuals to collect massive amounts of data that will help in answering science questions in the coming years.”

 A typical day started around 5 a.m., as the field campaign group prepared to foray into the forest. Armed with testing supplies, water, food, and backpacks, the group collected the first sample around 6 a.m. before moving on to other selected locations in the forest, collecting samples along the way.

It was challenging physical work, according to Bhuiyan, but a fulfilling experience both professionally and personally.

“It was great to see the measure of intricate detail that goes into satellite measurement and meet students from across the U.S.,” he says. “We had a chance to do happy hours and explore the Millbrook area on our own, after the day’s work.”

He advises students to grab any kind of field campaign experience they can. Even if it’s not directly related to their field of study, the effort and participation will pay off.

“Whatever experiences like this you can get will help you professionally, especially with getting to know new people, networking, and building relationships,” he says. “Get out there and get going!”