Calibration and characterization of an improved low-cost water content sensor


Inexpensive, accurate, and reliable soil moisture measurements are necessary in countless applications from research to hydroponics. Many have dreamed of these types of sensors being so inexpensive that they could be spread over a wide area to monitor water status at numerous locations
in a watershed, greenhouse, or golf course to name a few. However, measurements of this sort are only as valuable as their ability to truly portray conditions in which they measure. Cheap moisture measurement devices have been available for years, but could only give rough, relative moisture
information. Likewise, accurate volumetric water content (VWC) sensors have been available for a long time, but were much too expensive for extensive placement. New, less expensive sensors show considerable promise to maintain or even exceed the measurement quality of higher priced

Researchers familiar with commercial VWC sensors will often ask three questions when approached with a newly developed dielectric sensor: what is the accuracy of the instrument, how does it react to different soil texture and electrical conductivity (EC), and how much does it cost? Our goal with this application note is to address these three questions with regard to the new EC-5 soil moisture sensors. Our objectives within this
study are to:

  • compare VWC readings from the EC-5 to the actual VWC obtained through gravimetric methods through the creation of calibration curves
  • determine the effects of substrate (soil and soil-less media) texture on EC-5 sensor readings
  • determine the effects of electrical conductivity on EC-5 sensor readings

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