Utilizing cosmic radiation for effective flood and drought monitoring

Soil moisture is a critical component in sustaining human life, essential for crop growth and providing food for livestock. Understanding soil moisture is becoming increasingly important in the face of climate change, and a new method utilizing cosmic rays has shown great promise.

Cosmos-UK, established by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in 2013, has been pioneering the use of naturally occurring cosmic radiation to measure soil moisture. Dr. Jonathan Evans, the project leader, explains that this radiation generates neutrons in the Earth’s atmosphere, which are then scattered by water in the soil, providing valuable insights into soil moisture levels.

Compared to other methods of measuring soil moisture, such as ground sensors or satellite data, cosmic radiation neutron sensing can cover larger areas and provide real-time information, making it crucial for water resource management and enabling farmers to make informed decisions regarding irrigation and farming activities. The increasing frequency of droughts and changing rainfall patterns due to climate change calls for the use of this data in climate models to predict future soil moisture levels.

An image from a COSMOS UK research site in the Berkshire Downs, southern England. - COSMOS-UK, UKCEH

An image from a COSMOS UK research site in the Berkshire Downs, southern England. – COSMOS-UK, UKCEH

With the expansion of Cosmos-UK to India, the potential for better water resource management in agriculture is evident. Trainings conducted by the UN’s joint FAO/IAEA Division have also shown the effectiveness of cosmic ray neutron sensors in countries such as Sudan and Iraq, indicating its global impact on sustainable water resource management.

As our understanding of soil moisture continues to evolve, the use of cosmic rays as a method of measurement holds a promising future for ensuring sustainable and resilient agricultural practices in the face of a changing climate.

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