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The TWDB and Texas A&M partner on critical soil research Posted on July 12, 2022


Transcript

Nathan Leber - TexMesonet Program Manager, Texas Water Development Board

Data on soil conditions can be used by the National Weather Service to improve weather forecasts and to more accurately forecast floods. Soil conditions data can help local emergency managers and first responders be better prepared for significant precip events. This data can be used by our ag community by providing them with information that allows them to effectively irrigate their crops.

Charles Ring – Farmer, Ring Brothers Farm and Seed

It's all corn, cotton, sorghum. I've been through this for 45 years. I was born in '53. I don't think I saw rain until 1960 when I was seven years old. We went through that historical drought, and in '89 we had a tremendous drought. It took me 30 years to recover from that one drought. We had deep moisture this year. We didn't have surface moisture. We had difficulty getting a crop up. If you start out with a full profile of water, you can plant corn. If you're short of profile, of deeper moisture, you better, maybe you might ought to plant sorghum, plant more cotton, whatever. But it definitely is important to know what you start out with. And the soil is everything. Fertility, all of those things change with depth; moisture changes with depth. And certainly, it's a key factor. We have to make those decisions. We have to make them early and the wrong decision can cost your crop. It's just essential that we continue to gather information.

Nathan Leber - TexMesonet Program Manager, Texas Water Development Board

A mesonet is a network of weather stations located across the state that allows us to see, at a small scale, what's taking place. The TexMesonet program recently partnered with Texas A&M University and Dr. Briana Wyatt to analyze the soil characteristics at our TWDB stations. 

Dr. Briana Wyatt – Assistant Professor of Soil and Crop Sciences, Texas A&M University

The goal of our current project is to develop a soil property database of all of the TexMesonet sites. So, these data can then be used for applications like predicting wildfires or forecasting streamflow or irrigation scheduling. So, to do this, the first step is to go out into the field and actually collect an intact soil core. And we are using a hydraulic soil sampling probe called a Giddings probe to collect these soil samples. 

And the way that works is you have a soil tube that is pushed into the ground by the Giddings probe, and then you pull it back up and inside is an intact soil core. And then we cut that at the specific depths that we need. And those depths correspond to the depths of the soil moisture sensors that are located at each of these TexMesonet sites. We then store it and bring it back to our lab where we can analyze it to determine the amount of water that it holds. So right now, the data that are available are most useful in terms of research. But if we combine the sensor data with our soil properties from the samples that we collect, we can make these data interpretable in a way that anyone should be able to understand.

Nathan Leber - TexMesonet Program Manager, Texas Water Development Board

So, when we understand the total capacity for the soil to hold moisture, we can develop percentages based on the total expected moisture content. So, when we look at the data, we would see the data is 30 percent saturated or 50 percent saturated versus the volumetric water content, which may be difficult to understand.

Charles Ring – Farmer, Ring Brothers Farm and Seed

It's important that we preserve that water and make sure that two generations, three generations down the road there's still enough water down there for us to utilize it, for whatever purpose.

Soundbites

Dr. Briana Wyatt on Texas A&M and TWDB's partnership

Dr. Briana Wyatt – Assistant Professor of Soil and Crop Sciences, Texas A&M University

"Texas A&M is one of the foremost agricultural universities in the United States but also in the world. And the fact that, now, Texas A&M researchers are working with the Texas Water Development Board really provides, I think, a unique opportunity to learn more about the water resources of the state of Texas."

Nathan Leber on improving the TexMesonet's data coverage

Nathan Leber - TexMesonet Program Manager, Texas Water Development Board

"At this stage, the TWDB's primary focus is on filling in the gaps in data coverage across the state and ensuring that the quality of the data is as good as possible. The TexMesonet Program provides public access to this data free of charge via the TexMesonet website. Moving forward, one of the things that excites me is operationalizing this soil database because soil conditions play a significant role in how energy and moisture move across and through the Earth's surface. Existing products can be improved by the inclusion of this data. Soil moisture maps can provide planners, emergency managers with information on expected runoff at a city or county level. The data can improve fire risk or weather forecasts. And on the ag side, we are looking at products to help inform irrigation, scheduling, and planting."

This article is posted in Technology / Weather / Water Data .