Engineers produce water-saving crop irrigation sensor

September 26, 2019

A team of University of Connecticut researchers engineered a soil moisture sensor that is more cost effective than anything currently available and responds to the global need to regulate water consumption in agriculture.

Designed and tested on the university's farm, the sensors are small enough to insert into the soil with ease and less expensive to manufacture than current technology, the researchers write in the Journal of Sensors and Actuators.

"Advances in hydrological science are hampered by the lack of on site soil moisture data," said Guiling Wang, study author and professor of civil and environmental engineering at UConn. "It's really hard to monitor and measure things underground. The challenge is that the existing sensors are very expensive and the installation process is very labor intensive."

The sensors developed by the team of UConn engineers -- environmental, mechanical, and chemical -- are expected to save nearly 35% of water consumption and cost far less than what exists. Current sensors that are used in a similar way range from $100 to $1,000 each, while the one developed at UConn cost $2, according to the researchers.

An alternate monitoring option, soil moisture data collected from remote sensing technology such as radars and radiometers on board satellites, have suffered from low resolution. But the new technology developed by UConn Professor Baikun Li's group can provide high spatio-temporal resolution data needed for hydrology model development in Wang's group.

In the UConn prototype, wires are connected from the sensors to an instrument that logs data. Researchers conducted field tests of the sensors -- performing side-by-side tests with commercial sensors under various environmental conditions throughout a 10-month period. The effects of the environmental variations on soil moisture throughout the period were clearly reflected.

Critically, the small sensors can also be easily sent around he world given the fact that soil moisture plays a fundamental role in agricultural decision-making globally.

Accurate soil moisture sensing is essential to ensure a water level that produces the most robust crops while not wasting the natural resource. In some states in the U.S. -- Florida and California, for example -- irrigation water usage has become tightly restricted.

The UConn researchers are also working on a nitrogen sensor that is the same model of the water sensors. These would help provide farmers with information on when fields need fertilizing. Currently, nitrogen sensors are not available using this type of technology.

"This is really an exciting start to a much larger scope of things we have in mind," says Li, a study author and professor of civil and environmental engineering.
-end-


University of Connecticut

Related Soil Moisture Articles from Brightsurf:

RUDN University soil scientist: Deforestation affects the bacterial composition of the soil
A soil scientist from RUDN University studied the effect of forest conversion on the properties of the soil: its acidity, carbon and nitrogen resources, bacterial composition, and the activity of microorganisms.

Transparent soil-like substances provide window on soil ecology
By using two different transparent soil substitutes, scientists have shown that soil bacteria rely on fungi to help them survive dry periods, says a study published today in eLife.

Short-term moisture removal can eliminate downy mildew of spinach
Scientists at the University of Arkansas explored the relationship between available moisture and disease establishment and in a recent article they demonstrated that removing moisture decreased both spore survival and disease.

Self-watering soil could transform farming
A new type of soil created by engineers at The University of Texas at Austin can pull water from the air and distribute it to plants, potentially expanding the map of farmable land around the globe to previously inhospitable places and reducing water use in agriculture at a time of growing droughts.

RUDN University soil scientist: Paddy soil fertilization can help reduce greenhouse effect
A soil scientist from RUDN University discovered the effect of fertilization on the ability of the soil to retain carbon.

Soil bogging caused by climate change adds to the greenhouse effect, says a RUDN University soil sci
A soil scientist from RUDN University studied soil samples collected at the Tibetan Plateau and discovered that high soil moisture content (caused by the melting of permafrost and glaciers) leads to further temperature increase.

Global warming threatens soil phosphorus, says a soil scientist from RUDN University
A soil scientist from RUDN University found out that the resources of organic phosphorus in the soils of the Tibetan Plateau could be depleted because of global warming.

Iron is to blame for carbon dioxide emissions from soil, says a soil scientists from RUDN
Iron minerals and bacteria can be the main agents of carbon dioxide emissions from the soil.

Heavy metals make soil enzymes 3 times weaker, says a soil scientist from RUDN University
Heavy metals suppress enzyme activity in the soil by 3-3.5 times and have especially prominent effect on the enzymes that support carbon and sulfur circulation.

A continuous simulation of Holocene effective moisture change in East and Central Asia
Based on a transient climate evolution model, a lake energy balance model and a lake water balance model, the effective moisture change during the Holocene in East and Central Asia is continuously and quantitatively traced by constructing a virtual lake system.

Read More: Soil Moisture News and Soil Moisture Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.