New Tool Measures Soil-Atmosphere Interactions to Optimize Farming Practices

Mapping soil heat transmission may help determine optimal land management practices and appropriate crops to plant as the climate changes.

Taking soil samples to test new heat probe in Iraq (Photo: University of Granada)
By Daniel Dawson
Nov. 30, 2022 14:54 UTC
Taking soil samples to test new heat probe in Iraq (Photo: University of Granada)

Researchers from Spain and Iraq have designed a new heat pulse probe to mea­sure the ther­mal con­duc­tiv­ity of the soil.

Normally, tak­ing these mea­sure­ments is com­plex and requires a lot of time and work. However, the sci­en­tists said the new probe is a low-cost and easy-to-use instru­ment” that will help other researchers and agron­o­mists bet­ter under­stand the energy and mass exchanges between the soil and atmos­phere.

Most of these inter­ac­tions take place in the sur­face layer of soil and are sig­nif­i­cantly impacted by tillage prac­tices, fer­til­izer appli­ca­tion and micro­bial bio­di­ver­sity. Soil depth above under­ly­ing bedrock and soil type also play an impor­tant role.

See Also:Nearly Half of the Farmland in Europe Faces Erosion Factors

The new probe includes a sam­pling sys­tem, mea­sure­ment cham­ber and elec­tronic con­trol sys­tem, allow­ing exper­i­ments to be car­ried out in the field in a range of con­di­tions. In addi­tion, the researchers said all the mate­ri­als used in its con­struc­tion are afford­able and com­mer­cially avail­able.

Most soil stud­ies are done by extrap­o­lat­ing raw soil data from exist­ing sur­veys. Other meth­ods to mea­sure soil ther­mal con­duc­tiv­ity in situ require spe­cific train­ing for oper­a­tors and sig­nif­i­cant amounts of elec­tric­ity. Additionally, their accu­racy is lim­ited by tem­per­a­ture range and soil water con­tent.

The researchers from the University of Granada in Spain and the uni­ver­si­ties of Wasit and Baghdad in Iraq believe that a bet­ter under­stand­ing of soil-atmos­phere inter­ac­tions, which are crit­i­cally impor­tant to life on Earth, is nec­es­sary as offi­cials seek to mit­i­gate the sub­stan­tial impacts of cli­mate change on agri­cul­ture.

They hope to estab­lish a base­line under­stand­ing quickly, so they may later study how cli­mate change affects soil-atmos­phere inter­ac­tions.

The researchers believe a bet­ter under­stand­ing of these inter­ac­tions will help farm­ers make more sus­tain­able deci­sions about when they till and how they apply fer­til­izer or mulch.

For exam­ple, we have found that con­ven­tional tillage increases the tem­per­a­ture flux in the soil com­pared to no tillage, mainly due to the decrease in the bulk den­sity of the soil, that is, the increase in the porous sys­tem,” said Andrés Caballero Calvo, a geog­ra­phy pro­fes­sor at the University of Granada.

Researchers from Spain’s Experimental Station of Arid Zones pre­vi­ously said the ways in which cli­mate change is trans­form­ing how plants and soil inter­act is one of the less-dis­cussed but more dis­rup­tive impacts of cli­mate change on agri­cul­ture that deserves more atten­tion.

The researchers work­ing on the new heat pulse probe did not repeat this asser­tion. However, map­ping soil heat trans­mis­sion glob­ally may help gov­ern­ments advise farm­ers on land man­age­ment prac­tices and deter­mine appro­pri­ate crops to plant in the places under­go­ing the most rapid changes in their envi­ron­ments.

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