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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

    Evapotranspiration is arguably the least quantified component of the hydrologic cycle. We propose two complementary strategies for estimation of evapotranspiration rates and root water uptake profiles from soil‐moisture sensor‐array data. One is our implementation of ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF); it treats the evapotranspiration sink term in the Richards equation, rather than soil moisture, as the observable to update. The other is a maximum likelihood estimator (MLE) applied to the same observable; it is supplemented with the Fisher information matrix to quantify uncertainty in its predictions. We use numerical experiments to demonstrate the accuracy and computational efficiency of these techniques. We found our EnKF implementation to be two orders of magnitude faster than either the standard EnKF or MLE, and our MLE procedure to require an order of magnitude fewer iterations to converge than its counterpart applied to soil moisture. These findings render our methodologies a viable and practical tool for estimation of the root water uptake profiles and evaporation rates, with the MLE technique to be used when the prior knowledge about evapotranspiration at the site is elusive.