Categories: Spatial Analysis

Using Remote Sensing to Map Rice Paddy Drop in the Mekong Delta

The Mekong River Delta is an important water source flowing through South East Asia. Primarily feeding the rice fields of Vietnam, the Mekong River Delta has long been an area of great fertility due to water flow and silt build up. However, agricultural efforts in the area have shown a decline in production because of the weather effects of El Niño. This year’s El Niño has been particularly strong, causing droughts in South East Asia.

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Satellites including Europe’s Sentinel-1A can now track the rise and fall of different agricultural products around the world. The satellite’s imagery showed that rice production in the Mekong Delta has decreased in the past year, threatening the livelihoods of local farmers as well as food security worldwide.

El Niño patterns have dried up the water, causing it to be at its lowest levels in about 90 years. Saltwater is now encroaching on the rice fields as the fresh water stream weakens. Farmers have responded to these adverse weather conditions by reducing the size of their rice fields in an attempt to save some of their product and conserve a limited amount of water.

Changes in Cambodia from Sentinel-1A readings at 20 m resolution, acquired every 12 days from March 2015 to March 2016. Dark blue represents water surfaces, light blue to magenta represents agriculture (bare soil and cultivated fields), light to dark green represents forests, and white indicates settlements. In particular, the varying shades of magenta indicate rice sowing and transplanting between mid-September and the end of October. Source:  modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2015–16)/sarmap/RIICE project/OpenStreetMap contributors (background map).

The Sentinel-1A satellite can see through cloud cover, which makes it incredibly important in research involving agriculture. Without this imaging ability it would be nearly impossible to physically see the effects of the El Niño system year to year. The images from the satellite have allowed researchers to see how rice production has been changed by the weather conditions, and how much water levels have fluctuated.


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The satellite Sentinel-1A is the first part of a complete satellite research mission. Satellite Sentinel-1B is currently set to launch on April 22nd of this year and will be imaging areas in Asia every six days. Sentinel-1A currently images the area every 12 days. The Sentinel satellites are helping researchers put together a more detailed map of how climate change can affect rice production around the world, and what governments can do to stem the crisis that can come from a lack of this important staple food product.

Intra-annual Sentinel-1 data from January 2015 to December 2015 were used to produce rice-cropping systems map in the Red River Delta, Vietnam. In this case study, a significant area of rice paddies grows two crops per year (green). The remaining areas, in mountainous and riverine regions (red), are where the long-term flooded or saturated soil conditions permitted only one crop of rice per year. Source: modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2015–16)/TU Wien.

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