Geophysical Techniques for Plant, Soil, And Root Research Related to Sustainability

Giovanni Bitella, Roberta Rossi, Antonio Loperte, Antonio Satriani, Vincenzo Lapenna, Michele Perniola, and Mariana Amato

Abstract The sustainable management of human activities, from production to waste disposal and the cycling of finite resources, is one of the great challenges of research for the coming decades, stemming from societal needs and the growing awareness of environmental mechanisms.

Research on geophysical methods provides an interdisciplinary approach to such challenges by addressing the need for techniques to assist in designing and monitoring strategies for sustainability in agriculture and other environment-related sciences.

In the past few decades, technological advances have produced new tools or have improved existing techniques for near-surface geophysical investigation in a robust, cost-effective, and noninvasive way. Experimental results have proved that soil physical properties thus detected and mapped can be used as a proxy of physical, chemical, and biological features relevant for the appropriate management of soils, based on their behavior, spatial variability, and time dynamics.

This chapter reviews principles of the techniques and reports selected research results on environmental and agronomic research.

Introduction

Research in the coming decades faces challenges stemming from the most urgent needs of society, from a growing population to the reduced availability of important resources and problems in cycling of renewable ones. Among them pursuing sustainability plays a key role and requires the knowledge of environmental mechanisms and the ability to monitor the impact of strategy implementation. The concept of “sustainable agriculture” well identifies the relationship between agriculture and environment, with the specific challenge to produce sufficient food and fiber, as well as raw materials for “green chemistry” with acceptable environmental costs and to manage difficult environments while preserving and enhancing the amount and quality of environmental resources. The integration of the environmental concerns into agricultural policy is the key strategy for enhancing the sustainability of agro-ecosystems (EEA Report 2013). This relationship is more evident if we consider the increasing frequency of the climate-related hazards and the role of the agriculture in the climate adaptation strategies (see IPCC Report 2014 by Field et al. 2014).

The arena where agricultural land use and environmental processes meet is the soil: the thin upper part of Earth Crust (Earth Skin) represents one of the more complex systems in which lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere interact and are strongly linked. The thickness of the zone beneath the Earth surface that is of interest for the agriculture science is within the range 0–2 m. There is a growing demand of near-surface observing technologies for studying a wide spectrum of phenomena in the soil having implications on agriculture and environment, from the analysis of time-dependent change of water content to the detection of pollutants and from the analysis of soil salinization and fertility to the study of soil–root plant interactions (Allred et al 2008; Vereecken et al. 2006).

Geophysics addressed these challenging themes with novel observing technologies based on completely innovative sensors (i.e., optical fibers, electromagnetic devices), advanced algorithms for 2D and 3D tomographic imaging, and new technologies for field surveying (i.e., drones and Land Unmanned Vehicles). To date, geophysics provides a set of robust, cost-effective, and completely noninvasive or minimally invasive technologies for near-surface investigations able to estimate the physical properties of the shallow layers of soil and subsoil.

Such technologies are used in a range of applications, from archaeology to hydrology or precision agriculture, and allow to acquire information that can be directly used for the description and monitoring of relevant features or can guide strategies for sampling (Rossi et al. 2011).

Research on geophysical applications in agriculture and the environment has been conducted in Basilicata in the past decade, and this chapter provides an introduction to the techniques and an overview of selected results obtained within this context.

 
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