Soil is an important natural resource, just as the air and water that surround us are. Unfortunately it has been overlooked in the past and taken for granted with disastrous results, such as the North American dust bowl of the 1930s. Today, the role of soil health on our climate as a whole is taken more seriously, with researchers at organizations such as the USDA-ARS (US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service) looking into how exactly soil interacts with the rest of our environment.
Receiving accurate and instantaneous information on soil moisture content, salinity, temperature, and other parameters, soil sensors are an important tool for anyone involved with soil.
Irrigation plays an increasingly important role in agriculture. Irrigation is essential but so is the proper management of the irrigation. Soil moisture monitoring is the key to ensuring good irrigation management decisions are made to maximize the benefit of irrigation.
Irrigation is not the only use for soil monitoring. Each year, erosion from changes in land use causes millions of dollars in damage to property and natural water systems. In order to understand the causes of erosion and make predictions about when and where erosion will occur, hydrologists need to record rainfall, sediment and soil moisture. The water infiltration rate of soil is a function of soil moisture—if the soil is dry, the infiltration rate will be sufficient to prevent run off. Overland water flow may occur if rain events happen at a time when soil is saturated. Monitoring soil moisture is an important input parameter into erosion prediction models.
Regional drought can severely affect the economy and even lead to starvation in some areas of the world. With advances in computer processing and environmental modeling methods, scientists are beginning to understand regional water budgets and hydrological processes. An important input into drought forecasting models is changes in regional soil moisture. Long-term soil moisture data over large regions can be used to predict and characterize harmful droughts.
Soil monitoring is also critical to dust control, biofuel production, phytoremediation, reservoir recharge from snowpack, soil carbon sequestration studies, watershed hydrology studies, satellite groundtruthing, landslide studies, and is used in mesonets and weather station networks around the world.