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Ground Penetrating Radar

Ground penetrating radar, or GPR, is a tool used to find stuff buried under ground and the amount of moisture in the soil. The technology is getting better and new ways to use it are being tested.

John Algeo is a graduate student at Rutgers University. He’s studying how to make ground penetrating radar better for measuring soil moisture and improving new methodologies to determine water content over large areas. 

"We looked at it in natural field settings to basically give radar operators a way to map water content in scenarios where normally they wouldn’t be able to use GPR to do so," says Algeo. "Water content is obviously important for agricultural operations, and also important for studying climate change since water content has a big control on how carbon transfers between the subsurface and the atmosphere."

It’s very fast. Some set ups have wheels, so you can drag the unit across lines of a field in a day. Water can be detected anywhere from four-inches-to-three-feet below the surface depending on the frequency of the radar wave. It can even be measured in heavy clay soil where radar normally isn’t helpful.

Algeo says this technology will allow farmers to optimize their water usage.

"In some parts of the country there are pretty significant restrictions on water usage. So, to be able to understand where a farm site needs more irrigation versus less irrigation so that you can use you water resources more efficiently is going to be an especially important thing moving forward," he says.