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ICE-CSIC will start the MIRROR project to measure soil moisture with drones


Credits: Pixabay

During the month of December, the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC) officially started a new research project approved by the State Research Agency (AEI) within the call “Strategy projects oriented to ecologic transition”, in order to measure soil moisture using drones.

Serni Ribó and Estel Cardellach are Principal Investigators of the MIRROR Project (Measuring Deep Soil Moisture from Drones), which will last for 2 years. They both are senior members of the Earth Observation research group at the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC) and members of the Institute of Space Studies in Catalonia (IEEC).

With the goal of strengthening crop resilience towards climate change, Ribó and Cardellach will develop a new remote sensing instrument to be flown on a drone, which will be capable of providing vertical soil moisture profiles. In depth analysis data will help improve hydric resources management in the precision agriculture sector, reduce crop losses caused by droughts and ensure food prices. Currently, there is no other sensor or technology that can provide deep soil moisture information across broad areas, as only in-situ sondes or near ground sensors exist.

The instrument will make use of an innovative measurement concept using “Signals of Opportunity (SoOP) – signals transmitted by different satellite constellations for uses other than remote sensing that will bounce off the Earth surface. This instrument will collect the echoes of the signals to estimate the properties of the reflecting surface. The team involved has a track of more than 20 years in reflectometry of GNSS signals (Global Navigation Satellite System) and SoOP signals.

NASA is currently developing a technological demonstration satellite mission called SNOOPI to test the ability of signals of opportunity to provide measurements of soil moisture at depth. The development of the MIRROR project uses a drone, which will allow obtaining greater spatial resolution for precision agriculture applications.

Besides its scientific and technological impact, the researchers involved expect the MIRROR project to have an economic impact both in the drone market and in the precision agriculture sector, by allowing the selection of proper crops for given soil moisture conditions and better management of water resources.

Furthermore, the researchers also point out the social benefits of a more resilient agricultural sector towards climate change, since it would contribute to the territorial balance between rural and metropolitan areas, as well as ensure food prices and food security. In addition, drone-based services can also attract young talent from the technology and engineering sector to rural areas.



Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC) & Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC)
Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC) & Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC)