Quantifying even small changes in water availability would be significant for Montanans who make decisions that balance risks and costs. In 2014 there were 27,800 farm operations across ~60 million acres of land that contributed to 4.2 billion dollars of Montana’s revenue. Agriculture is such a large Montana industry that any increase in efficiency from more accurate weather and soil moisture information can translate into several million dollars in statewide savings each year. Whether for irrigated and dryland agriculture, grazing, water supply, or natural resource management too few stations exist to measure meteorological and soil moisture information at the same location to support decision-making based upon local conditions.
The Montana Climate Office (MCO) is leading the development of a cooperative statewide soil moisture and meteorological information system. It is designed to support decision-making in agriculture, range and forested watershed contexts. This network will add new remote sites and integrate existing cooperator networks to develop the first statewide soil-climate network.
The Montana Mesonet will:
- Combine information from existing data networks
- Establish a minimum of 100 new soil moisture recording sites through partnerships with cooperators.
- Provide an information system for accessing and visualizing historic, real-time and forecasted data.
Initially this effort will focus on agricultural and rangeland areas of Montana. By the fall of 2016 the MCO will have 30 stations located across Montana as part of the Montana Research and Economic Development Initiative (MREDI).
Over time the MCO will respond to many outstanding requests for additional stations in cooperation with local watershed groups, NGO’s, private sector, tribal, state, and federal partners.
No one entity can ensure sustained operation and success of a statewide climate and soil moisture information network. With this in mind the MCO is embracing a cooperative context that will address a diverse set of information needs. The MCO will extend a significant cost reduction on science grade stations to cooperators and will install them as funds become available. We are currently testing the accuracy of 3 manufacturers against “gold standard” National Weather Service stations. The MCO will also ensure that data are quality controlled and accessible in real time through web services and smart devices. An annual service fee will cover data transmission fees, computing infrastructure, and maintenance costs. Simply stated, the MCO will not profit from the stations or maintenance of the network beyond the inherent value in facilitating an expansive and publically available soil moisture and climate information network for Montanans.
All stations are solar powered and will allow users to check the data from virtually anywhere in the world. Data are transmitted from the data-logger’s internal module to MCO’s secure server via cellular communication. Quality assurance and control checks are applied and the data are available to the user to access, monitor and download at any time. Transmitted data are backed up in the data-logger’s memory and at the MCO to provide an extra layer of redundancy and protection.
Data is delivered in multiple formats such as maps and graphs that dynamically report the latest content. This includes the ability to rapidly summarize point and gridded data by state, county, watershed or ownership unit. Finally a smartphone application will provide users with a mobile tool for viewing data in the field.
Montana Mesonet Coordinator
W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation
University of Montana
32 Campus Drive
Missoula, MT 59812-5076