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  1. Abstract Understanding the interactions among agricultural processes, soil, and plants is necessary for optimizing crop yield and productivity. This study focuses on developing effective monitoring and analysis methodologies that estimate key soil and plant properties. These methodologies include data acquisition and processing approaches that use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and surface geophysical techniques. In particular, we applied these approaches to a soybean farm in Arkansas to characterize the soil–plant coupled spatial and temporal heterogeneity, as well as to identify key environmental factors that influence plant growth and yield. UAV-based multitemporal acquisition of high-resolution RGB (red–green–blue) imagery and direct measurements were used to monitor plant height and photosynthetic activity. We present an algorithm that efficiently exploits the high-resolution UAV images to estimate plant spatial abundance and plant vigor throughout the growing season. Such plant characterization is extremely important for the identification of anomalous areas, providing easily interpretable information that can be used to guide near-real-time farming decisions. Additionally, high-resolution multitemporal surface geophysical measurements of apparent soil electrical conductivity were used to estimate the spatial heterogeneity of soil texture. By integrating the multiscale multitype soil and plant datasets, we identified the spatiotemporal co-variance between soil properties and plant development and yield. Our novelmore »approach for early season monitoring of plant spatial abundance identified areas of low productivity controlled by soil clay content, while temporal analysis of geophysical data showed the impact of soil moisture and irrigation practice (controlled by topography) on plant dynamics. Our study demonstrates the effective coupling of UAV data products with geophysical data to extract critical information for farm management.« less
  2. Climate warming in alpine regions is changing patterns of water storage, a primary control on alpine plant ecology, biogeochemistry, and water supplies to lower elevations. There is an outstanding need to determine how the interacting drivers of precipitation and the critical zone (CZ) dictate the spatial pattern and time evolution of soil water storage. In this study, we developed an analytical framework that combines intensive hydrologic measurements and extensive remotely-sensed observations with statistical modeling to identify areas with similar temporal trends in soil water storage within, and predict their relationships across, a 0.26 km 2 alpine catchment in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, U.S.A. Repeat measurements of soil moisture were used to drive an unsupervised clustering algorithm, which identified six unique groups of locations ranging from predominantly dry to persistently very wet within the catchment. We then explored relationships between these hydrologic groups and multiple CZ-related indices, including snow depth, plant productivity, macro- (10 2 ->10 3 m) and microtopography (<10 0 -10 2 m), and hydrological flow paths. Finally, we used a supervised machine learning random forest algorithm to map each of the six hydrologic groups across the catchment based on distributed CZ properties and evaluated their aggregate relationships atmore »the catchment scale. Our analysis indicated that ~40–50% of the catchment is hydrologically connected to the stream channel, lending insight into the portions of the catchment that likely dominate stream water and solute fluxes. This research expands our understanding of patch-to-catchment-scale physical controls on hydrologic and biogeochemical processes, as well as their relationships across space and time, which will inform predictive models aimed at determining future changes to alpine ecosystems.« less
  3. Abstract

    In recent years, the availability of airborne imaging spectroscopy (hyperspectral) data has expanded dramatically. The high spatial and spectral resolution of these data uniquely enable spatially explicit ecological studies including species mapping, assessment of drought mortality and foliar trait distributions. However, we have barely begun to unlock the potential of these data to use direct mapping of vegetation characteristics to infer subsurface properties of the critical zone. To assess their utility for Earth systems research, imaging spectroscopy data acquisitions require integration with large, coincident ground‐based datasets collected by experts in ecology and environmental and Earth science. Without coordinated, well‐planned field campaigns, potential knowledge leveraged from advanced airborne data collections could be lost. Despite the growing importance of this field, documented methods to couple such a wide variety of disciplines remain sparse.

    We coordinated the first National Ecological Observatory Network Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) survey performed outside of their core sites, which took place in the Upper East River watershed, Colorado. Extensive planning for sample tracking and organization allowed field and flight teams to update the ground‐based sampling strategy daily. This enabled collection of an extensive set of physical samples to support a wide range of ecological, microbiological, biogeochemical and hydrologicalmore »studies.

    We present a framework for integrating airborne and field campaigns to obtain high‐quality data for foliar trait prediction and document an archive of coincident physical samples collected to support a systems approach to ecological research in the critical zone. This detailed methodological account provides an example of how a multi‐disciplinary and multi‐institutional team can coordinate to maximize knowledge gained from an airborne survey, an approach that could be extended to other studies.

    The coordination of imaging spectroscopy surveys with appropriately timed and extensive field surveys, along with high‐quality processing of these data, presents a unique opportunity to reveal new insights into the structure and dynamics of the critical zone. To our knowledge, this level of co‐aligned sampling has never been undertaken in tandem with AOP surveys and subsequent studies utilizing this archive will shed considerable light on the breadth of applications for which imaging spectroscopy data can be leveraged.

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