In California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory received $4.6 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy for two innovative projects to non-destructively image roots and measure the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Standard methods now involve drilling soil cores and doing chemical analyses on them back in the lab, which does not allow for repeat measurements of the same soil and is not practical over large areas.
Tomographic Electrical Rhizosphere Imaging technology works by sending a small electrical current into a plant’s stem and throughout the root system and sensing the electrical response of both roots and soil.
The second project will build an instrument to analyze soil chemistry, without disturbing it, by means of inelastic neutron scattering. Similar technology is used in homeland security applications, such as detecting explosives and other materials in cargo, and is a longtime area of research at Berkeley Lab.