The Earth System Modeling Complex (ESMC) provides real-time weather and air quality forecasts for the High Plains of the United States using sensors placed in farm fields and backyards around the Midwest.
The sensors measure air temperature, precipitation, and humidity and automatically feed the data to "the cloud." The data is processed and becomes available in real time as weather predictions through the ESMC app or website. Farmers can use the information to inform irrigation plans.
Development of the ESMC
The ESMC website is maintained by the Iowa Technology Institute's Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) Lab under the direction of Jun Wang. Wang established ESMC in 2015 when he was at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to directing AER, Wang is the James E. Ashton Professor in Engineering at the University of Iowa College of Engineering and assistant director of the Iowa Technology Institute.
How the Sensors Work
The sensors have built-in WiFi connectivity, internal voltage monitoring, and a PCB trace antenna and are powered by three standard AA alkaline batteries and a small solar panel. The sensors record temperature, pressure, and relative humidity and send data to a cloud-based server once every hour. The sensor monitors data hourly rather than in shorter time increments to preserve battery power and provide more meaningful data.
The sensors are to be mounted in dry areas six feet above the ground. Once up and running, data can be viewed under the "Citizen Data" menu on the ESMC website or on the ESMC mobile application.
Future of the ESMC
These sensors are intended to have a large effect on farming, particularly on when farmers should irrigate their fields relative to estimated weather patterns.
There are plans under a $1.6 million United States Department of Agriculture grant to develop a sensor to be inserted in the ground to measure soil moisture. Together, these sensors hope to provide a holistic view of the farm field, maximizing crop yields and helping farmers determine the most efficient ways to use their water.