Nasa launches satellite to measure soil moisture

A handout picture made available by NASA on Jan 30, 2015 shows the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory onboard as the mobile service tower is moved back to help workers service the rocket at
A handout picture made available by NASA on Jan 30, 2015 shows the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory onboard as the mobile service tower is moved back to help workers service the rocket at Space Launch Complex 2, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, USA, on Jan 29,  2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Nasa on Saturday launched a new Earth-observing satellite that aims to give scientists high-resolution maps showing how much moisture lies in soil in order to improve climate forecasts.

The SMAP observatory - short for Soil Moisture Active Passive - blasted off atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 6:22 am (1422 GMT), the US space agency said.

The high-resolution maps that the satellite returns to scientists should help prepare for the future in which severe weather like droughts and storms are expected to become more frequent, by giving experts better tools to forecast how crops and forests will change as the planet warms.