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What is a Soil Moisture Sensor?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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A soil moisture sensor is a device people can use to measure moisture levels in soil for purposes like irrigation control and scientific research. This equipment can use a number of different techniques to detect soil moisture, including measuring capacitance or impedance. Many scientific suppliers carry these devices and people can also find them at irrigation supply stores. It is also possible to build them from scratch; guides for constructing soil moisture sensors can be found online and in books.

Some sensors have a design allowing people to leave them in place. They can connect with an irrigation system and may offer features like remote readings, so people can collect data without actually having to look at the sensor in place. These soil moisture sensor designs are more rugged, with protective casings to prevent corrosion, and tend to be more expensive. Other sensors are portable probes people can insert into the soil to take a moisture reading.

In an automated irrigation system, a soil moisture sensor can be a valuable tool for saving water, as well as making sure the watering needs of a crop are met. The sensor can alert the system when moisture levels drop, telling it to start watering, and can also send a signal when moisture levels are adequate or high, keeping the irrigation system off. In addition to conserving water, this can also prevent issues like fertilizer runoff and will protect surrounding waterways, as well as neighboring farms.

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People can use a soil moisture sensor hooked to an irrigation system for crops, landscaping, and regular gardening. The level of complexity in the system varies and the cost can be considerable, which is something to think about when preparing to invest in a system. Cost savings over time will be significant, but the initial expense may be more than people are prepared to undertake. For farmers, it may be possible to receive a grant if people can show how the system will save water and protect the environment.

Soil scientists can use a portable soil moisture sensor when evaluating soils at a site, as do people like geologists, project engineers, and other scientists interested in soil properties. Biologists and ecologists may need soil moisture measurements for their work, and these devices can also play a role in the classroom, where teachers may want to show students how moisture affects soil properties. This can be useful for activities ranging from exploring quicksand to understanding good farming practices.

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