Sensor Network for Measuring Soil Moisture

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed an underground sensor network to measure soil moisture by quantifying how changes in soil water content affect the attenuation of radio signals between buried sensor nodes.  The network can provide highly granular soil data with minimal infrastructure.


Soil water content affects almost every ecological, agricultural, and hydrological process at the land-atmosphere interface. Soil moisture, especially near the surface, varies in space and time in response to a long list of biophysical factors making it difficult to measure and model. Water managers could use real-time soil moisture data if it were available. Unfortunately, sensors that provide automated, continuous soil water measurements and connect to the internet are expensive and complex. Commercial sensors and dataloggers cannot be economically deployed in large enough numbers to make them useful for applied water management. Furthermore, efficient irrigation hinges on knowing the current soil moisture status in the soil. However, running wires and installing multiple radio towers within a field or urban landscape is often impractical.

Recent developments associated with 3-D printing, electronics, and Internet-of-thing connectivity have “opened the door” for a new generation of real-time soil moisture measurement technology. Underground sensor networks offer the advantage of being essentially “invisible” while providing highly granular soil data. Such a system would be especially useful in the automated management of irrigation systems associated with precision agriculture. The technology could also be a boon for control urban irrigation systems (turf and landscape irrigation, golf courses, etc.)


This invention measures soil moisture using a novel underground wireless network technique. Core technology is low-cost wireless sensor nodes that communicate by radio through the soil and air – greatly reducing the need for above-ground infrastructure and simplifying the logistics of instrumenting a field with internet of things (IoT) sensors. A novel approach is used for detecting changes in soil moisture by quantifying how radio signals are attenuated when passing through the soil. Once installed, the sensor network detects real-time changes in soil moisture and communicates the results to an above-ground cellular gateway and the cloud.


  • Low cost, minimal infrastructure
  • Continuous, real-time data measurements
  • High granular data


  • Irrigation Systems
  • Agriculture
Last Updated: August 2022

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