Posted in | Sensors General

Field Sensor Accurately, Quickly Identifies Soil Issues

Challenges faced by producers sometimes go deep into the soil. They are in need of answers to help the soil, on site. A portable field sensor is capable of accurately measuring minerals in soils more efficiently and effortlessly than the present methods. This can be confirmed by a research team made up of a Middle School Student and her Scientist Father.

Extensive calcium carbonate accumulation engulfs this soil layer, making it difficult for plant roots to break through. Photo credit David C. Weindorf.

Calcium, like several other minerals, is considered to be essential for healthy plant growth. However, excess of calcium, especially in the form of calcium carbonate, can create problems as it builds up in the soil.

Calcium carbonate is basically a type of salt. It dissolves in water after a rainfall event and moves down through the soil.

David Weindorf, the Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University

Limestone is one vital source of this calcium. At low levels, it produces small white masses or thin threads in the soil. However, it can in fact take over the entire subsoil in extreme cases. The ability of plant roots to grow is limited by its hard surface. Obtaining this information on-the-fly is vital for soil Scientists and growers solving problems in the field.

Soil Scientists usually use their proficiency to look at the soil and then define the stage of the calcium visually. Laboratory-based techniques that are extremely accurate, but not portable, are also available. The Researchers wanted to see if a portable x-ray device, known as portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (PXRF), would be better.

The Researchers, based on their comparisons, discovered that the device is indeed a good method for measuring the calcium in the soil. The device is capable of providing data on about 20 different elements within 60 seconds.

This can be a huge advantage for soil Scientists functioning in the field. It can also help Farmers and Scientists in developing countries who cannot pay for expensive laboratory tests, or who do not have the knowledge to visually appraise the soil.

We are not advocating doing away with traditional assessment. We are simply providing a new data stream to help field soil scientists when evaluating carbonates in the field. Essentially, PXRF is another tool in the tool belt of the modern soil scientist, but it is by no means the only tool.

David Weindorf, the Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University

Weindorf’s daughter was also part of the study. For Camille, this research was a way to go beyond her school’s science fair and carry out some original research. The soil samples were scanned by Camille, and she then assisted her Father in performing the laboratory tests. Camille also helped in calculating the summary statistics and then writing the paper.

As a Father, I just can’t overemphasize how proud I am of my Daughter for taking on this science challenge with me. I hope a project like this can inspire other students around her age to engage in original scientific inquiry. Truly, they are the future which will keep our country at the forefront of scientific innovation.

David Weindorf, the Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University


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