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Design and characterization of a pneumatic micro glass beads matrix sensor for soil water potential threshold control in irrigation management


Soil moisture porous matrix sensors may be good alternatives to tensiometers for measuring soil–water matric potential (SMP) for irrigation scheduling based on soil–water status approaches. The objective of this paper is to present and evaluate a new porous matrix sensor (IGstat) for detecting specific SMP thresholds for possible application in irrigation scheduling regulated by the SMP threshold concept. The IGstat sensor uses a non-sintered, glass bead microspheres (microGB) core and an outer ceramic cup, having larger air bubbling pressure (BP), to establish hydraulic contact with the soil. Pneumatic, optical, or electrical properties of the microGB porous medium can be then measured to infer the SMP. This paper describes and evaluates the performance of IGstat sensors for SMP threshold detection, using the pneumatic mode with a small air flow applied and air pressure monitored in the sensor tubing. Five IGstat sensors were built with different microGB diameters (15–125 µm) having air BP varying from 6 to 40 kPa. A power function was fitted to the data, which can be used to select microGB diameters to build IGstat sensors of required air BP. The experimental setup proposed to determine the sensor BP by incremental air injection provided air BP values in good agreement with those observed in a soil evaporation experiment (average relative error of 7.6%). The sensor responses in soil, with a small air pressure applied to them, showed a sharp pressure decreases when the SMP approached the sensor air BP, decreasing to about zero for SMP equal to the sensor air BP. The proposed sensors and approach showed potential for irrigation scheduling.

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