Testing a novel sensor design to jointly measure cosmic-ray neutrons, muons and gamma rays for non-invasive soil moisture estimation

Gianessi, Stefano; Polo, Matteo; Stevanato, Luca; Lunardon, Marcello; Francke, Till; Oswald, Sascha E.; Said Ahmed, Hami; Toloza, Arsenio; Weltin, Georg; Dercon, Gerd; Fulajtar, Emil; Heng, Lee; Baroni, Gabriele

Cosmic-ray neutron sensing (CRNS) has emerged as a reliable method for soil moisture and snow estimation. However, the applicability of this method beyond research has been limited due to, among others, the use of relatively large and expensive sensors. This paper presents the tests conducted on a new scintillator-based sensor especially designed to jointly measure neutron counts, muons and total gamma rays. The neutron signal is first compared against two conventional gas-tube-based CRNS sensors at two locations. The estimated soil moisture is further assessed at four agricultural sites, based on gravimetric soil moisture collected within the sensor footprint. Muon fluxes are compared to the incoming neutron variability measured at a neutron monitoring station and total gammas counts are compared to the signal detected by a gamma ray spectrometer. The results show that the neutron dynamic detected by the new scintillator-based CRNS sensor is well in agreement with conventional CRNS sensors. The derived soil moisture also agreed well with the gravimetric soil moisture measurements. The muons and the total gamma rays simultaneously detected by the sensor show promising features to account for the incoming variability and for discriminating irrigation and precipitation events, respectively. Further experiments and analyses should be conducted, however, to better understand the accuracy and the added value of these additional data for soil moisture estimation. Overall, the new scintillator design shows to be a valid and compact alternative to conventional CRNS sensors for non-invasive soil moisture monitoring and to open the path to a wide range of applications.

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Gianessi, Stefano / Polo, Matteo / Stevanato, Luca / et al: Testing a novel sensor design to jointly measure cosmic-ray neutrons, muons and gamma rays for non-invasive soil moisture estimation. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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