Breaking new ground with Sensoil tech at UWA Farm Ridgefield

29/03/2023 | 2 mins

The installation of Sensoil’s Vadose-zone Monitoring System (VMS) at The University of Western Australia’s Farm Ridgefield in Pingelly was a ground-breaking achievement for Associate Professor Sally Thompson and her research team.

After almost three years of planning and preparation, it took two days, nine people, and a powerful mobile drilling rig to establish the state-of-the-art real-time soil sensing device in a cropped field at UWA Farm Ridgefield earlier this year.

The VMS installation at UWA Farm Ridgefield.Image: The VMS installation at UWA Farm Ridgefield as B&T drillers line up the rig.

The partnership between UWA and Sensoil, with support from TERN and AuScope, is an essential component of the Australian Research Council-funded Critical Zone Observation (OZCZO) network.

UWA Farm Ridgefield is among five sites in the OZCZO network, which includes the University of Adelaide, University of the Sunshine Coast, James Cook University, and the University of New South Wales.

Researchers use state-of-the-art, automated monitoring infrastructure to observe stocks and flows of carbon, water, energy, and mass across the Critical Zone (the vertical span from plant canopies to bedrock).

School of Engineering Associate Professor Thompson, who co-leads the Water for Food Production research theme at The UWA Institute of Agriculture, said the VMS would help confirm and improve agricultural management for carbon, water and cropping outcomes.

“The cereal-pulse-oilseed-pasture rotations at UWA Farm Ridgefield capture a representative and responsible Australian agricultural practice,” she said.

“Our UWA research team can apply what we learn here to many other sites."

"We can also link into longer-term fundamental questions about landscape evolution and how the soils, water and ecology of the Western Australian grainbelt work together."

Associate Professor Sally Thompson
Sally Thompson 

Head of the UWA School of Agriculture and Environment Associate Professor Matthias Leopold said it was essential to pinpoint the perfect location for the VMS at UWA Farm Ridgefield.

“Using shallow geophysical instruments funded by AuScope, we scoped and stratigraphically identified the ideal spot to install the VMS,” Professor Matthias said.

The VMS real-time soil sensing technology is based on more than 15 years of research led by Sensoil co-founder Professor Ofer Dahan, who travelled from Israel to assist with the installation.

Professor Dahan said UWA was making a tremendous investment in understanding the link between land-use and sustainability of groundwater resources in the WA grainbelt.

Associate Professor Sally Thompson and Professor Ofer Dahan with the VMS control panel.Image: Associate Professor Sally Thompson and Professor Ofer Dahan with the VMS control panel.

“Conducting accurate measurements in the unsaturated or ‘vadose’ zone (between land surface and groundwater) is very challenging from both technical and scientific aspects,” he said.

“We provide monitoring technology that can carry out long-term continuous hydrological measurements across the entire unsaturated zone.

“Data obtained by Sensoil’s VMS technology may shed light on the quality and quantity of groundwater recharge and give a hint to the long-term impact of land-use and climate changes on water resources availability.”

Media references

Rosanna Candler (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) +61 08 6488 1650

Associate Professor Sally Thompson (UWA School of Engineering and The UWA Institute of Agriculture) +61 08 6488 8541

Associate Professor Matthias Leopold (Head of the UWA School of Agriculture and Environment) +61 08 6488 2769

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