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Soil research could help Texans better understand how to manage droughts, floods

The research is a partnership between the Texas Water Development Board and Texas A&M University
TexMesonet soil research.jpg
Posted at 7:54 PM, Jul 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 20:54:16-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Texas Water Development Board is pairing with Texas A&M University researchers to compile and study data about the state’s soil.

TexMesonet, a TWDB program, is a network of weather stations across the state that allows TWDB to look at information on a small scale.

“The TexMesonet’s goal is to fill in gaps in existing coverage, but also make available, in one location, all the data that’s being collected by other entities,” said Nathan Leber, the TexMesonet Program Manager. “We have approximately 1,500 stations that are represented by the TexMesonet program.”

The partnership with TAMU is to analyze soil conditions across the state. Researchers can analyze the soil at different depths, and see how much water the soil retains.

“This is something we have a lot of applications for,” Leber said. “If you look at agricultural uses, we are hoping to inform irrigation systems management, we can inform planting times, we can also inform livestock rotation.”

Charles Ring, the owner of Ring Brothers Farm and Seed based in Sinton, said soil is very important for farming.

“The soil is everything,” Ring said. “Fertility, all of those things change with depth; moisture changes with depth. And certainly, it's a key factor. We have to make those decisions. We have to make them early and the wrong decision can cost your crop. It's just essential that we continue to gather information.”

However, the data will have more applications than just in the agricultural field. The information can be useful for the National Weather Service, and cities across the state, to predict the possibility of flooding ahead of major rain events.

“Kind of the Holy Grail of understanding emergency management, when it comes to flooding, is understanding how the rain is coming down will actually impact the surface,” Leber said. “Soil conditions can really affect how much water runs off versus how much water is absorbed. In some circumstances, the same exact amount of water coming down, you might have zero run-off, or you might have flash floods across an area.”

With the lack of rain the area has experienced in 2022, and throughout its history, the data can also be used to navigate drought conditions and conserve water.

“It's important that we preserve that water and make sure that two generations, three generations down the road, there's still enough water down there for us to utilize it, for whatever purpose,” Ring said.

“Getting a state-wide data set will then set us up for future developments, creating future products, future tools. So, this is step one, and we hope to develop those products and tools as we move forward,” Leber said. “We’re hoping it can assist in conservation of our water resources — understanding when and how to water our crops can save millions of dollars in water resources in the long term.”

The hope is to make the data available to anyone who wants it.

“If we combine the sensor data with our soil properties from the samples that we collect, we can make these data interpretable in a way that anyone should be able to understand,” said Dr. Briana Wyatt, an assistant professor of soil and crop sciences at TAMU.