The water content in soil plays a crucial role in a large variety of biophysical processes, such as seed germination, plant growth and plant nutritional value and affects water infiltration, redistribution, percolation (and consequent diffusion of pollutants) as well as plant transpiration. Overwatering causes problems with crops and leads to irrigation water wastage while under watering leads to insufficient plant growth.
This is what motivated the proposal for the project WetSoil (A water-efficient irrigation monitoring system for agriculture) which was one of five projects selected for funding by the Energy and Water Agency that has allocated €558,000 for research and innovation in the fields of energy and water within the framework of the National Strategy for Research in the Energy and Water Sectors.
The successful project proposals were announced at a news conference by the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development, Hon. Miriam Dalli, the Minister for Research and Innovation, Hon. Owen Bonnici and the Agency’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Manuel Sapiano. The event took place on 13 January 2021 at the Għajn National Water Conservation Centre in Rabat.
The Project Coordinator of WetSoil is Dr Lourdes Farrugia, one of the key members of the Electromagnetics Research Group (EMRG) at the Department of Physics. This group was established about 12 years ago by its Leader, Professor Charles V. Sammut.
Professor Sammut and Dr Iman Farhat (also a member of the EMRG) are the other two other key researchers participating in this project which has been allocated €120,000 over two years and aims to build a user-friendly, low cost system of time-domain reflectometry probes and corresponding software algorithms to accurately quantify soil water content.
WetSoil will be a comprehensive, accurate and reliable system to monitor hydrological water balance, provide basic data to limit irrigation water consumption and monitor changes in water content for irrigation scheduling in order to optimise crop yield.
The probes that will be designed constitute an innovative alternative to conventional multi-frequency techniques and will provide essential information on the soil water content at different depths simultaneously and sequentially, which makes the proposed technology ideal for mapping and monitoring the soil water content profile. Moreover, this project will allow for reliable retrieval of information, without a-priori information about the soil dielectric properties, and can also be used to determine and quantify pollutants present in the soil.
The EMRG is an interdisciplinary research group based in the Department of Physics, with contributing members from the Departments of Mathematics, Geosciences, Electronic Systems Engineering, Anatomy, Pathology, Surgery and Clinical Radiology & Nuclear Medicine as well as the Hyperbaric Unit at Mater Dei Hospital, IBAM-CNR and the International Telematic University Uninettuno (Italy). More information about this group and its ongoing activities is available online.