Technology innovation is transforming soil health monitoring

14th June 2021

Soil is a core resource of our planet and yet it is severely undervalued. From water and air quality to the conditions of our food chain, soil health can have a significant influence over many other ecosystems on earth.

Soil is the most fragile layer on the planet and without it, we would all starve. Water and food resource scarcity is just as important as other issues such as climate change and therefore, the protection and sustainability of our food production and soil resource is a key issue for governments all over the globe. Not only does it sustain our lives but also is key for supporting biodiversity, natural capital and reducing the impacts of climate change.

The inability to put people on the ground and the inaccessibility of some regions, means that soil health is not always easy to monitor. To overcome this issue, 4EI has developed a remote solution to monitoring and evaluating soil health, powered by space. Representative of this importance, the United Nations (UN) have made soil health an integral element of their 2030 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which make up their “blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future” (SDG.UN.org).

In fact, soil health falls under a total of seven of the 17 SDGs, both indirectly and directly. It is tied to the improvement of water and air quality, integrated with efforts to end hunger, contributes to reducing climate change impacts, and overall, is leveraged as a tool to improve population wellbeing and living standards.

SDGs that include efforts to improve soil health:

Goal 2: Zero hunger

Goal 3: Good health and wellbeing

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

Goal 13: Climate action

Goal 15: Life on land

The importance of soil health monitoring

Within these goals, targets have been set that governments are measured against and required to meet. Remote sensing is a powerful and objective tool that allows organisations to track their activities against their SDG targets – information that is absolutely imperative for users to evidence their position and compliance.

Remote sensing empowers large-scale soil monitoring. This activity is critical to improving soil health, and therefore, to achieving the UN SDGs and likely many other environmental targets organisations or governments have set for themselves. For example, Abu Dhabi have put soil at the heart of one of their key environment objectives – committing to deliver sustainable and integrated approaches to protecting land and soil, achieved through effective soil management.

Monitoring our soils through remote sensing gives us greater understanding of the condition of soils. It helps organisations evaluate soil quality, explore key characteristics and patterns, and identify where to deploy targeted improvement action. As a resource that plays such an integral role in the restoration of our planet and people’s livelihoods, soil monitoring needs to be delivered at a massive scale. This is the only way nations across the globe can achieve the dramatic and rapid change necessary to meet many of their environmental goals.

Technology advancements in soil monitoring are essential

Change monitoring, detecting patterns and markers in soil characteristics, and predicting vegetation behaviour – over larger areas of land – will be valuable intelligence for the future of soil health. It will allow organisations in many sectors to adapt their approaches, target clean-up activities, and allow soil health to be revitalised.

How 4EI are innovating a new approach

4EI are using an innovative technological approach to soil monitoring in order to broaden the scope of this work and gain the detailed intelligence necessary for future use cases.

Working on a soil monitoring project for Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), we have developed a novel methodology that uses cutting-edge techniques – including remote sensing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). This allows us to fill in data gaps about soil characteristics in the Middle East and produce objective, repeatable and transparent evidence that can be used to further the progress towards environmental goals.

By combining on-the-ground soil sampling with extremely detailed, high resolution Earth imagery we can deliver insightful conclusions about soil quality and characteristics – as well as how this may be impacting other ecosystems and biodiversity. Not only this, but this understanding can be obtained at a national level, quickly and cost-efficiently.

A technology-based methodology

Earth imagery

We use innovative and cutting-edge technologies to create an overarching view of soil health throughout a specified area. Using this remote technique not only collects data over vast and often physically inaccessible areas, but it uncovers information that is impossible to see with the naked eye, producing unprecedentedly detailed scans and vast amounts of data about soil health.

This can later be correlated against other datasets to determine critical areas and direct further analysis.

Ground-based sampling

We also use physical soil samples to measure the chemical qualities and characteristics of the soil. This allows us to drill down into the detail in areas of high chemical concentrations, to fully and accurately determine soil quality and target improvement activities, clean-up or protection.

This can be applied at both early stages in a soil monitoring project or focused based on wide-scale imagery capture.

AI and ML analysis

We employ artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to enhance traditional analysis methods. These advanced capabilities can process the massive amounts of data collected during both physical soil sampling and remote image capture.

Bringing these various methods of data collection together for analysis is completely novel. It not only allows larger areas of land to be monitored, in a quicker and safer way than manual site sampling methods, but it can reveal significant patterns and trends only found by correlating these two datasets.

Our ambition is to take it to satellite level – using data gathered from satellite images to analyse terrain at a more comprehensive scale, potentially uncovering undiscovered trends in chemical concentration or areas of poor soil quality.

Other benefits:

  • Intelligent technologies can quickly identify significant data amongst large datasets.
  • Soil monitoring processes are made more repeatable, efficient and accurate.
  • Outputs will become more accurate with every deployment.
  • The time taken to perform data collection, processing, and analysis is significantly reduced.
  • Humans exposure to soil contaminants and inhospitable conditions is limited.

An increasingly relevant business application

Soil monitoring reveals many interesting facts about soil management. It can show how many contaminants are entering the soil, as well as what effects this degradation is having on the natural world around it. From the direct effects on water characteristics and vegetation, to the downstream impacts on population health, our soil monitoring capabilities perform a full health check.

This information is extremely useful for informing a variety of use cases and land management programs. For example, EAD is using the results of the project to manage their remediation activities, including directing clean-up resources, and informing future policies surrounding industries that affect soil characteristics. This method also has the potential to be applied for ongoing monitoring purposes and compliance or target measuring.

Other industries where soil monitoring is particularly pertinent include mining and extraction, agriculture, land management, and government or environment agencies. Our remote sensing approach can not only monitor the quality of soil and how it is affected by these industries, but it can also be used in connected terrains to monitor the downstream impacts of soil conditions, such as assessing shallow marine areas for the effects of leeching.

By analysing the land on various sites, we can make recommendations about adopting more sustainable approaches that reduce both direct and indirect soil quality impacts, help focus and target intervention activity, from asset mining to nature protection, and inform future policymaking.

4EI

by 4EI

4EI provide Applied Earth Intelligence and analytics. We gather evidence-based intelligence about the earth, using data collected through sophisticated space assets.

More From This Author

Talk to us

4EI are an industry leader in the Earth Intelligence sector. We are a customer-first company who work with agility and an innovative mindset. We are committed to providing solutions that truly add value and directly impact your projects.

Get in touch to start a conversation about how our applied intelligence services can transform the way you use data.