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Soil sensing
December 12, 2022

NSF climate change project measures the signals in the soil

Written By: Caitlin Scott



Joseph Andrews
Joseph Andrews

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Joseph Andrews has received NSF funding for an interdisciplinary project with colleagues in the UW departments of Soil Science and Bacteriology.

The project, Signals in the Soil or SitS: Leveraging spectroscopy and in situ soil sensing for the prediction of keystone soil microbial functions, aims to use low-cost soil measurement techniques (sensors) to understand how soil health affects microbiome activities over time across different ecosystems. UW collaborators are Zac Freedman (Soils), Jingyi Huang (Soils), Erica Majumder (Bacteriology) and Alfred Hartemink (Soils).

Zac Freedman
Zac Freedman

Soil represents the second largest pool of carbon on Earth, and soil microbes like fungi and bacteria are key determinants of the amount of carbon sequestered in soil. The team will integrate field and soil spectral observations from two long-term data sources, National Ecological Observatory Network sites and a cropping systems trial in Wisconsin, with lab estimations of soil microbial functions that govern the fate of carbon in a changing world. The resulting dataset will be made available to the research community to address future questions.

The combined expertise of this interdisciplinary research team and their commitment to learning more about how to mitigate climate change via soil carbon sequestration is a prime example the Wisconsin Idea in action. Prof. Andrews is also involved in another project funded by the USDA looking to use multi-depth measurement techniques for quantifying nitrate leaching in soil, particularly looking at Wisconsin agricultural applications.

Learn more about Prof. Andrews’ recent work developing printable electronic soil sensors in their two recent publications:

The SitS project time period is October 1, 2022 to September 30, 2026 and total award amount is $1.2 million. Andrews’ portion is $200,000.

Joseph Andrews, Mechanical Engineering, University of Wisconsin–Madison