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Utility of Ground-Penetrating Radar as a Root Biomass Survey Tool in Forest Systems

Informally Refereed
Authors: John R. Butnor, J.A. Doolittle, Kurt H. Johnsen, L. Samuelson, T. Stokes, L. Kress
Year: 2003
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Soil Science Society of America Journal 67:1607–1615


Traditional methods of measuring tree root biomass are labor intensive and destructive in nature. We studied the utility of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to measure tree root biomass in situ within a replicated, intensive culture forestry experiment planted with loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.). The study site was located in Decatur County, Georgia, in an area of the Troup and Lucy (loamy, kaolinitic, thermic Grossarenic Kandiudults and Arenic Kandiudults, respectively) soils. With the aid of a digital signal processing GPR, estimates of root biomass to a depth of 30 cm were correlated to harvested root samples using soil cores. Significant effects of fertilizer application on signal attenuation were observed and corrected. The correlation coefficient between actual root biomass in soil cores and GPR estimates with corrections for fertilizer application were highly significant (r = 0.86, n = 60, p < 0.0001). Where site conditions are favorable to radar investigation, GPR can be a powerful cost-effective tool to measure root biomass. Verification with some destructive harvesting is required since universal calibrations for root biomass are unlikely, even across similar soil types. Use of GPR can drastically reduce the number of soil cores needed to assess tree root biomass and biomass distribution. The quality and quantity of information resulting from a detailed GPR survey, combined with soil cores on a subset of plots, can be used to rapidly estimate root biomass and provide a valuable assessment of lateral root biomass distribution and quantity.


Butnor, John R.; Doolittle, J.A.; Johnsen, Kurt H.; Samuelson, L.; Stokes, T.; Kress, L. 2003. Utility of Ground-Penetrating Radar as a Root Biomass Survey Tool in Forest Systems. Soil Science Society of America Journal 67:1607 1615