Monday, 16 November 2015

EM values - What the data is telling you

An Electro-magnetic (EM) sensor generates a constant electro-magnetic field that penetrates into the soil profile. It measures the bulk electrical conductivity of the soil profile. As we conduct an EM survey the sensor is taking readings at two different depths simultaneously. These two depths are known as the ‘Shallow EM’ and the ‘Deep EM’. The depths the DualEM reads depends on the height the machine is off the ground. With our EM setup we are reading the soil profile depth of 0-40cm for the shallow EM and the deep EM at a soil profile of 0-125cm. So the deep EM values are the same as the shallow plus another 85cm deeper. This is why the deep EM readings are always higher than the shallow as it is reading that extra 85cm.

Figure 1: Shallow EM of the same area with values from 1.6-27 EM units (mS/m)

Figure 2: Deep EM survey values varying from 16-43 EM units (mS/m)

 In this survey the same features are showing in the shallow EM and deep EM results, however sometimes this is not always the case the deeper profile can have a different underlying soil type that the shallow EM doesn’t pick up but the extra 85cm of deeper soil does and it changes the overall structure.

Generally speaking and depending on what part of the country you are in and the time of year the survey is carried out amongst other things, we would class a range in EM in the shallow profile of 1-3 units as low variability, 4-8 units as moderate variability and over 8 units range as high variability in the shallow layer/soil profile. In the deep EM/soil profile layer a range of 1-6 would be low variability, 6-15 moderate variability and over that high. It is often dangerous to generalise like that, but it gives you an idea of the type of ranges we look at, and as previously stated there are a lot of other factors that determine if the readings are low, medium or high variability. You also have to look at the distribution of the values as well, if the majority of the values are within a certain range and a few rogue values outside that but on a minimal area of the total, then the range in variation may not be as much as it first looks. How much the variability is costing you in terms of blanket irrigation applications compared to variable rate irrigation applications be it water, seed or fertilizer is a subject for another day!

Also of note as an aside; is that with all our readings legend red is the lowest value and dark blue the highest. This does not mean that red is bad and blue is good, there are a number of factors that determine that, and there is also a climatic influence on what is good or bad, in a dry year the heavier EM areas would be better where you don’t have VRI, and in wet years the lighter areas with more free draining soils would be more favourable. Likewise in peaty acidic soils with high organic matter they would show through as the high blue EM areas and clay soils would show up as the lighter red soils on the map. So it is always worth taking samples as you conduct the survey to see what is affecting the readings.

For more information on EM Surveying please contact us at Agri Optics NZ Ltd.

Chris Smith.