Enhancing agricultural resilience and water security using Cosmic-Ray Neutron Technology (D1.20.14)


Soil water management requires comprehensive information on temporal dynamics and spatial variability of soil moisture. Vulnerability of agricultural systems is increasing with population increase and climate change. Conventional methods of soil moisture measurement providing point data cannot cover large areas and their installations are limited by the frequent tillage activities that are applied in agricultural systems. The nuclear technology has better potential to cope with this task as it is contactless and detects soil moisture over large areas. The Cosmic-Ray Neutron Sensor (CRNS) has potential to provide more representative assessment of soil moisture for irrigation scheduling, sustainable rainfed agriculture development, management of extreme weather events (flood and drought) and developing climate change resilience strategies.


The objectives are: (1) Advancing the capabilities of CRNS for Best Management Practices (BMP) in irrigated and rainfed agricultural production systems; (2) Integrating CRNS, Gamma-ray spectrometry (GRS), remote sensing and hydrological modelling for improving agricultural water management and its resilience at regional scales; and (3) Developing the approaches using CRNS and GRS for long-term soil moisture monitoring in agricultural systems and early warning systems for flood and drought management.

The main nuclear techniques to be applied in the CRP are CRNS and GRS. The major advantage of the CRNS is the large horizontal footprint (tens of hectares), and a penetration depth of tens of centimeters (reaching rooting zone in some cases). GRS is capable to quantify soil moisture over a smaller footprint (radius about 25 m and depth of 10 to 30 cm), which makes it a complementary tool to CRNS. The comparison of soil moisture data obtained by different methods and scales will allow to identify advantages and challenges of each method.


Ten countries participate in this CRP: five research contract holders from Brazil (two institutions), China (two institutions) and Mexico; three technical contract holders from Italy, Netherlands and United States; and two agreement holders from Denmark and United Kingdom.


This five-year CRP (2019-2023) was formulated on the basis of the recommendations of a consultants’ meeting held at IAEA headquarters, Vienna on 1-4 October 2018 and it was approved in March 2019. The call for proposals was closed in May and the First Research Coordination Meeting was held on 26-30 August 2019 in Vienna, Austria. The main results of the meeting were revising the work plans of project partners, developing the overall work plan of CRP, establishing the links for cooperation between project partners and planning of the publishing activities.

The important component of this CRP are the research and development activities carried by Seibersdorf’s Soil Lab. In spring 2019 the new soil moisture monitoring site equipped with CRNS was established in Rutzendorf, Lower Austria. The first publishing activities of Soil Lab will be three posters at European Geoscience Union General Assembly (3-8 May 2020, Vienna). They will summarize the interpretation of soil moisture monitoring with CRNS running at monitoring site of Institute for Land and Water Management Research in Petzenkirchen since 2013.

In late 2019-and during 2020 the first results of the CRP were published in international scientific journals and as oral presentations and posters at the virtual European Geoscience Union (EGU) General Assembly in May 2020 and 6th international COSMOS Workshop on 8-10 October, 2020 in Heidelberg, Germany. The second RCM will be held virtually hon 7-11 June 2021.

Project Officer:

Emil Fulajtar and Lee Heng