Student tracks drought conditions using cosmic-ray sensor

drought sensor 2

Under the supervision of sustainability scientist Enrique Vivoni, ecohydrology graduate student Adam Schreiner-McGraw is examining the effects of land cover changes on water cycle, as well as possible consequences for ecosystem functioning, runoff generation and soil erosion. Using solar-powered sensors affiliated with a National Science Foundation-supported project called COSMOS, Schreiner-McGraw is measuring soil moisture in four Southwestern ecosystems.

The cosmic-ray sensors, which are roughly the size of a person and shaped like a space shuttle, are particularly useful because they provide a single soil moisture value for a large region. This average assists in the tracking of drought conditions and improves water management. Schreiner-McGraw hopes that the measurements obtained by these soil moisture sensors can be used to enhance watershed hydrology models, which commonly assess the impacts of land cover and climate change.