Detection of edaphic discontinuities with ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetic induction

James C. Stroh, Steve Archer, James A. Doolittle, Larry Wilding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Quantification of edaphic properties which may regulate the spatial distribution of vegetation is often limited by the expense and labor associated with collecting and analyzing soil samples. Here we evaluate the utility of two technologies, ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic induction (EMI), for rapid, extensive and non-destructive mapping of diagnostic subsurface features and soil series map unit boundaries. Strong reflectance from fine-textured, near-surface soils obscured radar signal reflectance from deeper horizons at our field test site in the Rio Grande Plains of southern Texas, USA. As a result, ground-penetrating radar did not delineate known edaphic contrasts along catena gradients. In contrast, EMI consistently distinguished boundaries of soil map units. In several instances, gradients or contrasting inclusions within map units were also identified. In addition, the location and boundary of calcic or cambic-horizon inclusions embedded within a laterally coextensive and well-developed argillic horizon were consistently predicted. Correlations between EMI assessments of apparent conductivity (ECa) and soil properties such as CEC, pH, particle size distribution and extractable bases were low (i.e., explained <6% of the variance), or non-significant. As a result, EMI has a high prospecting utility, but cannot necessarily be used to explain the basis for edaphic contrasts. Results suggest EMI can be a cost-effective tool for soil survey and exploration applications in plant ecology. As such, it is potentially useful for rapidly locating and mapping subsurface discontinuities, thereby reducing the number of ground truth soil samples needed for accurate mapping of soil map unit boundaries. An application, addressing hypotheses proposed to explain the role of edaphic heterogeneity in regulating woody plant distribution in a savanna parkland landscape, is presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-390
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001


  • Apparent conductivity
  • Argillic horizon
  • Edaphic discontinuity
  • Plant-soil relationships
  • Soil
  • Soil map unit boundaries
  • Soil mapping
  • Soil survey
  • Spatial variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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