Dr. Christopher R. Hain

Dr. Christopher R. Hain

By Galen Rende

ESSIC Assistant Research Scientist Christopher Hain could be called an expert at discovery from afar.   As a Visiting Scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), Hain has worked alongside scientists at the USDA-ARS Hydrology and Remote Sensing Lab on the development of the Atmosphere Land Exchange Inverse (ALEXI) model. This model uses thermal infrared remote sensing to gauge land-surface temperatures, which can help perform a wide range of assessments from plant-available water and soil moisture to evapotranspiration and drought-susceptibility.

“Judging by the temperature of the land surface, we’re able to say certain things about how the energy that’s coming from the sun is partitioned either into evaporating water or heating the earth,” Hain explains. “With thermal infrared sensing we can see a couple of weeks ahead of time where plants may be stressed, but not necessarily damaged yet.”

This kind of data has far-reaching implications, especially in water-stressed areas of the globe. For Hain, the model serves to enhance the ability of different stakeholders to more effectively use the water they have.

“Managing water use and food security is such a big topic right now and is such an important thing,” Hain contends. “With population growth going the way it is and with a finite area to grow agricultural crops, we need to find ways to use less water while growing more crops. That’s the problem we’re addressing.”

Starting this summer, the ALEXI project will be operational over North America, providing drought and evapotranspiration information to the United States, Mexico and Canada. With most of the science and data collection already done, Hain is optimistic that the National Drought Mitigation Center will benefit from remote sensing by integrating the data into their decision-making process.

Currently, Hain is working on applying the model over Northern Africa and the Middle East, where water-stress and agricultural pressures are crucial issues. In an area with low precipitation and high irrigation rates, Hain hopes that the remote sensing information will be used to find ways to make farmers more efficient with the water they use and ease the food insecurities that currently plague the region.

The progress Hain and his collaborators have made over the past decade is remarkable. Hain explains, “not only has technology gotten better, but our computing potential has become greater. We’ve been able to do more and accelerate the use of the information. In the last five to ten years, our application areas have really grown and we’ve been able to target more users who need this type of information.”

Hain received his B.S. in Meteorology from Millersville University in 2004 and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2007 and 2009.


To learn more about the drought research supported by ALEXI, visit http://hrsl.ba.ars.usda.gov/drought/about.php.

For information about the Evaporative Stress Index (ESI), visit http://hrsl.arsusda.gov/drought/

For the latest information regarding the operational adoption of the ESI system,visit https://cmns.umd.edu/news-events/features/3658