Tillage and Roughness Mapping

Soil erosion from wind has plagued agriculture for centuries. More recently, mining operations, construction, and water diversion projects have been facing similar problems. Eroded soil can become suspended in the atmosphere and lead to violations of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

For industry, the most common solution is watering the ground, which increases soil cohesion and reduces dust emissions. Water, though, is often in short supply or prohibitive in cost. For this reason, Air Sciences is using industrial-scale tilling methods to inhibit dust emissions in complex regulatory environments. The solution is water-free, inexpensive, monitorable, and maintainable. 

 

Isn’t tillage what farmers do?

Well, yes. Humans have been turning over soil for centuries because it creates an ideal surface for planting. But farming communities have also long known that soil in a tilled field is far less likely to erode during windy conditions than a flat field. As it turns out, roughened surfaces create turbulence that slows the air at the surface. Also, furrow bottoms trap particles that start to move before they are able to pick up enough speed to produce dust emissions. Research shows us that the height and spacing of the ridges play a crucial role in how effective a tilled surface can be at reducing dust emissions.

Tilled, roughened surface of a playa lakebed.

Air Sciences is using this knowledge to help clients mitigate dust emissions from dry lakebeds. Ridges are plowed at a 90 degree angle to the predominant wind direction and at very specific heights and spacings per regulations. To account for multiple wind directions, ridges can also be tilled in two overlapping directions.

 

Tillage monitoring, remotely

Wind, water, and trapped sand erode tilled soil over time. Some conditions allow tillage to be resilient for decades, while others require more regular maintenance. Identifying areas needing maintenance can pose a significant challenge. Air Sciences is currently monitoring ridge integrity across vast areas (up to 5 square miles). But how do you monitor many square miles of uneven terrain? 

 

State-of-the-art airborne technology

Air Sciences is acquiring ultra-high resolution (5 to 15 cm) terrain data from airborne LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems, and has also utilized quadcopters and airplane-style unmanned aerial vehicles with only a camera. In fact, a relatively inexpensive drone and small camera have actually produced some of the most accurate results!

 

Airplane-style UAVs equipped with just a camera are easy to launch and economical.

 

Crunching the numbers

Collecting billions of raw data points is just half the challenge. Translating them into useful, actionable information is the other half. At present, no commercial software exists that can meet this specialized challenge. Ever innovative,  Air Sciences’ scientific programming team developed custom software to measure ridge height and ridge spacing continuously, along every furrow (even irregularly shaped ones), and across many square miles of tillage. Fully automated, the software is accurate to within 2 cm of ground measurements (ridge height), and can turnaround results in a matter of hours.

 

Ultra-high in resolution (just a few centimeters) data are essential for monitoring uneven surfaces.

At Air Sciences, we bring not only air quality experts to your project but also the ability to design custom and automated software solutions that give you actionable insights at your fingertips. Contact us to learn more about our work and capabilities for other applications.

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