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Building our Knowledge about Soils: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Creates Network of Monitoring Stations

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Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

To really understand subtle changes in our planet – like moisture held in the topmost earth layer – and their impacts on agriculture and the environment, scientists have to know what is going on in our soils.

In 2010, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) began setting up a network of soil monitoring stations to provide soil moisture, soil temperature and meteorological data and capture conditions for the main agricultural crop types, soil textures and ecozones in Canada. This network is known as Real-time In-situ Soil Monitoring for Agriculture (RISMA).

The monitoring stations continually measure and report the latest data in near real-time. In many cases, the data can be accessed online within an hour of the sampling. A web-based application developed by FieldVision Inc., out of Waterloo, Ontario, allows for easy viewing, synthesis and manipulation of the data.

This information can then be used by local producers for day-to-day operational decisions or by scientists for verification and calibration of soil moisture values obtained from satellite imagery. AAFC's overall research and development efforts are already helping the agricultural sector by constantly improving our capacity in crop yield modelling, drought monitoring and flood forecasting.

By 2015, the RISMA Network expanded to a total of 22 soil monitoring stations representative of soils and landscapes across Canada. The sites are located at Kenaston, Saskatchewan (four stations), Carman–Elm Creek, Manitoba (nine stations), Sturgeon Creek, Manitoba (three stations) and Casselman, Ontario (five stations). An additional station is found at AAFC's Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.

"Our stations are installed in annually cropped fields and provide us with vital soil information as well as meteorological data. Those measurements in near real-time help us test new sensor technology, support our satellite-based soil research and model development, and allow us to collaborate with other science organisations. Monitoring soil moisture will enable the sector to better mitigate agricultural risks on a regional and national basis."

- Anna Pacheco, Environmental Analyst, Remote Sensing, AAFC, Ottawa

AAFC is now providing the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with data from RISMA’s soil monitoring stations at Carman–Elm Creek and Casselman. Data sharing will occur for the duration of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, which runs until 2018. AAFC’s ground-based information will be used to assess data coming from NASA’s satellite and test soil moisture mapping products.

AAFC’s RISMA Network is supported by Environment Canada, the University of Guelph and University of Manitoba, and the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. AAFC also acknowledges the landowners for permission to install and access our stations and data surveys on their properties.

AAFC is joining other organizations worldwide to celebrate the International Year of Soils 2015 and raise public awareness about the fundamental roles of soils in our daily lives. We are doing our part by leading research and development activities in agri-innovations to enhance both the economic and environmental sustainability of Canadian agriculture.

Key Discoveries (Benefits)

Photo Gallery

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One of five Real-time In-situ Soil Monitoring for Agriculture (RISMA) stations near Casselman, Ontario.
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Kurt Gottfried , an AAFC Resource Analyst, installing soil moisture probes in an excavated pit on the farmer's field at Station 5 south of Elm Creek, Manitoba.
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AAFC researchers, like Anna Pacheco, use RISMA data to develop a variety of soil moisture mapping products.

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