“Life from cosmos„

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FINAPP - Life from Cosmos

Nowadays, water sensing is still a challenge in many applications. A correct water measurement is a fundamental prerequisite for many applications, from meteorological forecast to flood prediction, drought, agriculture and, in general, water accounting and management. The recent droughts in several part of the world highlighted the necessity for new solutions for a careful use of water resources. FAO calculates that 70% of the employed water resources is dedicated to agriculture, on the global scale. Agriculture that maximizes the crops production with less waste of water is called precision agriculture, and two pillars of such agriculture are the precise knowledge of the soil moisture content and the knowledge of water storage in the biomass of plants.
Solid water like snow or ice in the mountain regions are considered the "water towers" of the surrounding low lands with snow melt often being of major importance for its fresh water supply. Furthemore measuring correclty water in the snowpack could be very useful to prevent disaster like avalanche formation, runoff forecasting and floods.

Due to this crucial role, many devices have been developed to measure soil moisture and snow at different spatial and temporal scales.
The detectors range from point-scale invasive approach like Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) probes to remote sensing approaches. In the first group, high temporal resolution and different soil depths measurements can be obtained but difficulties emerge on covering large areas. In addition, the detectors are invasive (burred in the soil or snow) and they require high maintenance. For these reasons, they are not suitable for covering heterogeneous and impervious sites (mountains and cropped fields) and for long-term monitoring observatories. On the other extremes, remote sensing approaches are routing developed, mainly based on microwaves (1 mm – 1 m). In this case large spatial covering is detected. Temporal resolution (e.g., weekly) is however not always ideal for many applications and, more important, they are sensitive only to a thin part of the soil and land surface (few centimeters).

We propose a device for measuring the water content in the soil or in the plants, or the snow water equivalent. The space-time measurement scale covers the gap between the existing tecnologies. We propose an innovative probe to measure environmental neutrons produced by cosmic rays. The number of neutrons is directly correlated with the presence of water in different forms. The neutron transport processes are described by models that allow us to trace the average quantity of water present in the soil/plants/snow. The covered area is of the order of about ten hectares.
This new technology will be the key for an effective and economical environmental monitoring. It will be possible to obtain sustainable agriculture, where programmed irrigation and treatment is used not only to maximize the harvest but above all to minimize waste. In fact, being able to save even just 8% of the water destined for agriculture, the availability of drinking water for civil use can be doubled.


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About us

We are researchers working in the field of nuclear physics applied to homeland security and enviromental monitoring. We have many years of experience in creating industrial prototypes.


Image references:
Irrigated crop:Alupus
Northen lights:NASA