Why we write about this topic:

The agricultural sector must become more sustainable and efficient. This is made possible in part by drones performing inspections.

A PhD-student at the University of Groningen (RUG) has developed a method for using a drone – equipped with a smart sensor – to measure radioactivity in the soil from the air. This technique is applicable in agriculture, but also in restoration of natural areas, analysis of dikes and soil pollution around industrial sites, the RUG said in a press release.

Radioactive soils sound like something found only around exploded nuclear power plants and sites where nuclear missiles are tested. Yet every soil on this earth is radioactive. Admittedly, most soils contain only a very small amount of radioactivity. The clay soils of Groningen, the peat bogs and even our own backyard contain a very small amount of radioactive potassium, uranium and thorium.

Determining Fertility

The amount and ratio of these radioactive substances says something about the type of soil and can be used to derive other soil properties. For example, not only fertility can be determined, butthe distribution of minerals and moisture in the soil as well. This can be used to maximize crop yields because the farmer now knows where (and where not) irrigation is needed and how best to spread manure over his field.

Measurements with a drone

Gamma-ray spectrometry systems are currently widely used in industry and research, for example for medical applications. More recently, then, the systems are being used for precision agriculture. Until recently, such measurements were done from the ground using large and heavy detectors. But Steven van der Veeke, in his doctoral research, has developed a method to do this measurement with a drone from the air. As a result, the measurement area no longer needs to be disturbed and it is now possible to use this technique in areas that are inaccessible from the ground. 

Apply broadly

Steven van der Veeke (1992) studied Applied Physics at the University of Groningen (RUG) and works at Medusa Radiometrics. After his PhD, he will continue his work at Medusa Radiometrics: with the experience of PhD research, Van der Veeke is committed to promoting the widespread and proper use of gamma-ray spectrometers in a broad spectrum of research areas and applications.

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