Soil is a foundation of life on Earth and is the medium on which we have developed our human environment. Information about the surface-to-depth profiles of soil properties such as mineral and organic composition, water content, mechanical stability, biogeochemical processes, contamination, and temperature are key in a number of domains of national strategic importance. These observations are needed not only to gain critical insights into the adverse effects of climate change, but also to enable more sustainable operational applications.
SoilTech responds to this need by supporting a range of critical industries such as agriculture, energy, environment, climate adaptation, utilities, defense, communications, and construction by conducting research to enable timely state-of-the-art measurements and information about soil dynamics on multiple spatial and temporal scales. Though the aforementioned industries have varied research priorities, each has a shared interest in understanding the soil on which their business is built. Furthermore, these industries must meet sustainability goals and rapidly adapt to climate change impacts. The Center, with participating sites throughout the United States, is poised to support these multi-billion-dollar industries by serving as a crucial hub to hold collaborative meetings, to discuss pressing research needs, and to share information and transfer technology from the collaborative research conducted by SoilTech.
SoilTech aims to develop next-generation in-situ and remote sensors, networks, observation systems, and associated analysis methods for managed and unmanaged soils. These efforts will help industry partners obtain timely information about the surface-to-depth profiles of soil properties and their dynamics. Our research team is poised to make significant advances in our understanding of dynamic processes in soils through research in sensor development, soil health, contaminant monitoring and carbon sequestration, ground penetration, data transmission, data analytics, dynamic physics-based and data-driven models, and visualization tools. SoilTech will provide the underlying research necessary to develop new, more efficient and more sustainable ways of studying soil properties and managing soils and natural resources for industries in the energy, environment, agriculture, utilities, defense, climate change adaptation, and communications sectors. The Center's research will lead to broad societal benefits such as reduced soil and water contamination, improvements to agricultural practices, food security and carbon sequestration, management of subsurface water resources, mitigation and prevention of damage to infrastructure within and overlying soils, and management of the nitrogen cycle.
Iowa State University Site Director
University of Connecticut Site Director
Center Director and University of Southern California Site Director
University of Washington Site Director
Soil sensors and sensor networks: While surface soil property characterization has improved in recent years, there is a lack of information about subsurface soil profiles except for a few sporadic observations via airborne and in-situ sensors. These sensors and sensor networks may utilize electrochemical, biological, optical, and microwave technology. SoilTech addresses this major knowledge gap through a multi-scale and multi-modality observational scenario, with novel in-situ and low-altitude Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)-based sensors, high-altitude airborne and spaceborne remote sensors, and energy-aware wireless networks. For in-situ sensors, a further challenge is the development of sensor packages that are easily mass-deployed and resilient in the field over long periods of time. Many types of soil sensors such as electrochemical sensors still suffer from instability, low selectivity, and high detection limit. Such problems may lead to a limited and biased perception of soil health that severely hampers effective soil management and mitigation. Developing cost-effective, accurate, and durable soil sensors is often prohibitively expensive and too risky for a sensor company to handle alone.
Soil modeling and analytics: Soil sensor and sensor network observations can generate a variety of data types over a vast spatio-temporal domain. To enable decision support and mitigation measures, data analytic approaches need to be developed that integrate physics-based models and data-driven analyses and modeling capabilities. Such integrated models for information retrieval are currently lacking or are at very early development stages. Our research will use cutting-edge graph-based processing and machine learning methods for upscaling from in-situ to regional coverage and downscaling from satellite to local scale, while keeping in mind all axes of data heterogeneity (sensing modality, spatial scales, temporal scales).
Soil carbon capture and accounting: Soil carbon capture, subsurface storage, and monetizing carbon credits are rapidly growing focus areas in the agriculture, energy, and environment industries. However, initiatives in carbon capture and accounting are not yet well integrated. Understanding of how soil organic carbon dynamics are influenced by the climate, land use, and management practices is lacking. Carbon accounting efforts will require active collaboration across many industries to yield measurable impacts. In this respect, SoilTech will be able to make significant advances both by serving as a research and knowledge hub in this arena, and by aligning efforts for deploying frontier technologies for monitoring, modeling, and assessment of soil carbon capture and its impacts in agricultural, environmental, and energy practices.
Soil health and sustainability: Soil health and sustainability go far beyond any one organization’s land management initiatives. Truly transformative soil health and sustainable land use practices require the participation of multiple landholders across vast stretches of landscape. Understanding soil health through the measurement and analysis of soil features is vital for decision-making in many industry sectors including agriculture, energy, and defense. This information can also contribute to the efficient deployment of remediation strategies, improving environmental sustainability and conservation efforts. SoilTech’s proposed research in multi-scale soil sensing and advanced data analytics will enable these capabilities by bringing together multiple research efforts in universities, private industry, and government agencies.