Thursday, August 4, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (8/4/16): How many center-pivot irrigation systems do you see?

One of the most striking things about flying... 

... is looking down and seeing giant fields of circles on the Earth below.  If you've ever seen these, you might have wondered what they are.  They are NOT UFO landing sites, but are just fields that are being served by center-pivot irrigation systems.  Here's an example from Saudi Arabia (at 29.9653127, 38.3618227), where you can see that they are literally making the desert bloom (or at least turn a impressively dark shade of green.

Center pivot fields in Saudi Arabia at 29.9653127, 38.3618227 (P/C Google Earth)

When you're on the ground, there's a long, linear contraption that rotates about a central pivot hub, spraying water as it moves in a giant circle.  

which is driven from the center pivot that sends water down the pipeline.  

Center pivot hub, feeding irrigation water down the line.  

As you can see, these are pretty impressive systems.

Recently, as I was flying over the middle of America, I was wondering how the center-pivot systems in the US differ from other countries such as the Saudi system shown above in the first image. 

Here's an image from the middle of the US that has a lot of center-pivot systems: 

Center pivot fields in the US at 37.4359878,-101.6097197 (P/C Google Earth)

Obviously the soil is very different here. But what else is different here?  My curiosity leads to today's two SearchResearch Challenges:  

1.  (Easy) What's the most obvious difference between the US and the Saudi center-pivot irrigation systems?  (There are a lot of them.  Can you list one or two? How did you figure it out?)   
2.  (Hard)  How many center-pivot irrigation fields can you count in both of the images shown here?  Both images were taken from an altitude of 40 miles--but which location has more of the circular-disk-shaped fields?  (You should count but little and big fields.)  

The second question is a bit tricky.  Here are a couple of hints... 

A.  There are better ways than counting by hand.  Can you think what they might be? 

B.  I don't know of any obvious way to use Google to directly answer this Challenge.  I used Google in the process of solving it, but it was somewhat indirect. 

C.  Before you spend a lot of time trying random things, think carefully:  What would be a good way to approach a Challenge like this?  What would be the best approach?  (You should think to yourself:  What would Dan do??)  

As always, be sure to tell us HOW you solved this Challenge.  Tell us what steps you went through to solve this.  (For calibration, it took me about 10 minutes to find a method, and then about 2 hours to figure out how to use the method to come up with an answer.  

Search on!  


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell and everyone.

    Started with the "easy" one:

    [Saudi Arabia vs United States center pivot irrigation systems]

    Saudi Arabia is drilling for a resource possibly more precious than oil. And links to USGS's Landsat website

    From Wikipedia: "Center-pivot irrigation was invented in 1940 by farmer Frank Zybach, who lived in Strasburg, Colorado. It was recognized as a method to improve water distribution to fields."

    Since most of the pumps are powered by 12-cylinder Cat(R) diesel engines that consume up to 24 gallons per hour, the venture would likely be cost prohibitive in the U.S. 60 machines in this farm

    [Saudi Arabia center pivot irrigation systems characteristics]

    Pictures: Greening the Desert Examples from Arabia, Nevada, South Africa, CHina

    [Saudi Arabia number of center pivot irrigation systems]

    ["center pivot irrigation systems"]

    [United States center pivot irrigation systems]

    Center pivot irrigation

    [ center-pivot irrigation systems USA vs world]

    7 Center Pivot Myths Debunked


    1. Trying to find a tool or something similar to solve the Challenge. Thought maybe there is an organization that covers those systems because there are in specific sites, for example, USGS.

      [center-pivot irrigation systems database]

      Fun Facts About Center Pivots

      [center pivot irrigation]

      [Geospatial compilation and digital map of centerpivot irrigated areas ]

      [spatial mapping center-pivot irrigated areas]

      Irrigation Center Pivots, Brazil

      [Mapping of Center-Pivot Irrigated worldwide]
      Green and blue water

      Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Looking for data to download and then present data

  2. "Wheat production phased out — Saudi Arabia implemented the 2008 Government decree to completely terminate wheat cultivation by 2016 by gradually reducing wheat production quotas for registered farmers. The 2014 crop was the last locally grown crop purchased. "
    should have been OWEC not WPEC… duh, am acronym impaired…
    imports - spike starts 2007/08
    link to data
    the Canadians
    thank goodness for dated data… don't believe this has any "classified markings"…and if there are, I don't have any personal knowledge of who sent or received such communiques… and if it was done, it was with or without my explicit or implicit directive… thank you for letting me clear that up

  3. used the coordinates provided to search google maps and found the Al Rajhi Agricultural Infrastructure Investment Co & went from there for some of the back story…
    interesting reading/sources.
    29.9653127, 38.3618227
    many rounds
    zooming out for perspective

    water security… after draining the aquifers
    developer of area shown in Dan's KSA pic…

  4. Replies
    1. Another sRs inspired, Remmij! X-Rays first photo and some other photos with History

    2. Good Morning, Remmij! Thanks for the links! Santos-Dumont's flying machine is super interesting and the note about the Olympics that you shared made me learn about him. The video is awesome and the real photos are fantastic to learn. I agree with "The Case for" link both the Wright brothers and Mr. Santos made incredible things to our society. It is sad that so many people (like me) didn't know about him.

      About this week Challenge, tried searching on the site that I already have and with some clues shared here, nothing yet.

  5. [saudi center point irrigation]
    2. Saudi climate much hotter with very little water left in the aquifer so water to be applied close to the ground. Water hungry plants like wheat no longer allowed. Americans can pump from rivers and such and so blast the water over a much bigger area from each nozzle. National Geographic has a nice pictorial layout of irrigation systems around the world at

    2 Dan would find a tool to do the work. Using this [tool for counting Center pivot irrigation systems] I found, top of the list that this will do the job.
    It would appear that Arc Map using ARCGIS software will indeed identify and do all the counting which is all explained I have not tried it myself, and may not this weekend.


  6. Answer All hypothetical 2. a] Send up a drone which can map the area, create grid and determine numbers. I know drones are being used for example to determine number of tiles needed to reroof homes. Seems to me tiles or pixels amount to the same thing.
    b] Place image on top of a Google Earth/Map with grids for example using one square kilometer and determine how many irrigation systems in each square.
    c] Proprietary software used in this industry or other similar industries to determine numbers which I assume use satellite systems and mapping software.

  7. Here's an interesting website
    query [satellite systems to count ground objects]

  8. 1,483… give or take, fallow or partial, grey scale offset or circular anomaly from 40 mile (211,200') altitude… is that a cantaloupe?
    OK, they are in Kansas… 37.4359878,-101.6097197
    what's taking images @ 40 miles in altitude? sat info
    "A low Earth orbit (LEO) is an orbit around Earth with an altitude between 160 kilometers (99 mi) (orbital period of about 88 minutes), and 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) (about 127 minutes). Objects below approximately 160 kilometers (99 mi) will experience very rapid orbital decay and altitude loss.[1][2] The orbital velocity needed to maintain a stable low Earth orbit is about 7.8 km/s, but reduces with increased orbital altitude."
    the truth can be as slick as a humpback chub… beside, 'my oats are a-thirstin…' can Doris Kearns Goodwin be far off…
    killing the CO, something to ponder, if you can wade thru the agendas
    a cautionary tale from Crowley County
    Gila cypha
    "In 1972, he received an insistent call from President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose center pivot at his ranch in Texas had stopped working. “My oats are a-thirstin’, ’’ Johnson said.
    Mr. Daugherty dispatched a crew to make sure the president’s oats got their water."

    Robert Daugherty 2010
    interesting view from MIT
    published 6/22/16… check first 3 paragraphs

    took another look at possible tools… owww
    software from 2012… water pistol emoji against temple…
    icy software, see above
    need bigger squirt weapon of hydration
    412… AYFKM?

  9. not sure of the number here either… but it is a long way away…
    not to be too conspiratorial, but might help explain what happened to the water on the moon…
    lunar center pivot evidence ~ 1966, via nAsA
    dry pump 11
    nearby, showing numerous empty reservoirs…
    NASA Moon
    over the Googley moon
    an actual conspiracy example that I confabulated…
    it makes as much sense as this

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