Environment

Sensors buried in farmers' fields may help prevent algae blooms

Sensors buried in farmers' fie...
Toxic algae blooms are at least partially caused by fertilizer that runs off of farmers' fields and into waterways 
Toxic algae blooms are at least partially caused by fertilizer that runs off of farmers' fields and into waterways 
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Toxic algae blooms are at least partially caused by fertilizer that runs off of farmers' fields and into waterways 
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Toxic algae blooms are at least partially caused by fertilizer that runs off of farmers' fields and into waterways 
Utilizing inkjet-printed, laser-treated graphene circuits, the sensors will continuously measure nitrogen concentrations in the soil, wirelessly transmitting data to an internet-based hub that can be accessed by the farmer
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Utilizing inkjet-printed, laser-treated graphene circuits, the sensors will continuously measure nitrogen concentrations in the soil, wirelessly transmitting data to an internet-based hub that can be accessed by the farmer

Toxic algae blooms can be nasty, killing fish, other wildlife and sometimes even people. One of the main causes of such blooms is excessive amounts of fertilizer running off of fields and into waterways. A new type of buried sensor, however, could help address that situation.

Fertilizers can cause algae blooms by increasing populations of phytoplankton (algae is a type of phytoplankton), which produce biotoxins. These toxins deplete oxygen from the water, plus the plankton block sunlight from reaching fish and aquatic plants, causing them to die. Additionally, fish and animals living adjacent to the water can ingest the biotoxins, which humans will also occasionally inhale.

Unfortunately, when farmers are applying nitrogen-based fertilizer to their crops, they have no quick method of knowing how much is enough. They can take soil samples, but these have to be sent away to a lab for analysis – it can take a long time to get results, plus the process isn't cheap. As a result, farmers often forgo the soil tests and end up applying more fertilizer than is actually needed, some of that ultimately running into a nearby body of water.

With that in mind, scientists from Iowa State University and the University of Florida are developing disposable "bury-and-forget" sensors that can be shallowly-buried at various locations around a farmer's fields.

Utilizing inkjet-printed, laser-treated graphene circuits, the sensors will continuously measure nitrogen concentrations in the soil, wirelessly transmitting data to an internet-based hub that can be accessed by the farmer
Utilizing inkjet-printed, laser-treated graphene circuits, the sensors will continuously measure nitrogen concentrations in the soil, wirelessly transmitting data to an internet-based hub that can be accessed by the farmer

Utilizing inkjet-printed, laser-treated graphene circuits, these inexpensive devices will continuously measure nitrogen concentrations in the soil, wirelessly transmitting data to an internet-based hub that can be accessed by the farmer on a computer or even a smartphone. Based on that data, the farmer can then decide if more fertilizer really is required, and if so, in which areas. If no more is needed, not only are the chances of algae blooms lessened, but the farmer is also spared the cost and effort of needlessly applying additional fertilizer.

Once the prototype sensors are built, the researchers plan on testing how deep they can be buried while still maintaining a wireless network connection. They will subsequently be trialled in a testbed facility, in which a crop of tomato plants is being grown. It is hoped that once perfected, the sensors will last for an entire growing season.

"If we had a better predictive model, we could have better remedies for farmers," says Iowa State's assistant professor Jonathan Claussen, leader of the study. "A better model could tell them they can use less fertilizer."

Source: Iowa State University

2 comments
roger07
Sorry to say but his will not stop the blooms. These are caused by Cyanobacteria out of balance in water, they have absolutely nothing to do with algae. Everyone needs to get this right, algae are good, overdominance of bad bacteria such as E-coli, Botulism and Cyanobacteria are the cause of blooms and consequently the release of toxins. All farmers need to do is start using organic fertilisers and no pesticides that contain Glysophate, it is these that end up in the rivers, then completely upsetting the natural bacterial balance in water. If your water has the right bacterial balance, the nitrogen cycle works and there will be no blooms.
ljaques
Grok that, roger07. If farmers reverted to the known best practice of crop rotation, they'd have far fewer pests, healthier soil, and much less water pollution and algal bloom. Rotation puts nitrogen, phosphorus, and minerals back into the soil without the use of man-made fertilizers which can run off and imbalance the water. If ranchers stopped using grain to feed animals, there would be no e-coli to kill in butchered meat. Go back to grass feeding and leave the pink slime out of the meat in our food system. Oh, but if we did all that, the Bigs wouldn't get their pesticide sales, fertilizer sales, pest/fert-spreading machine sales, anhydrous meat processing machine sales, animal antibiotics, growth hormones, etc. I can't help but think that reverting to old farming systems would save enough to offset any loss of production. It would also allow the little farmers to compete better, making everything better. I just wish more research went into reversing the =causes= instead of ameliorating the current consequences of bad practices.