Norway: agile field robot

Sunday 20th November 2016
The Field Flux prototype can measure the amount of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide in agricultural fields. Image: NORA

Field robots and plane-based remote sensors can patrol the earth and the sky to monitor the gases that cause climate change. Standing on three large wheels that help it avoid getting stuck in the soil, the Field Flux robot is able to lower two sampling chambers held on large arms to test soils for tiny amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O).

"One of the great difficulties in quantifying N2O emissions from agriculture is that it changes with a factor of 100 from one day to the next and one spot to another," says (left) Professor Lars Bakken, of the  Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Oslo. A microbial ecologist on the NORA project, which is working out ways to reduce N2O emissions from soils, has developed the monitoring robot alongside Norwegian company Adigo. ‘This is actually the whole reason we made the field robot. If you want to quantify emissions from a field experiment you have to measure over and over and over in many plots,’ Courtesy.says Prof. Bakken .

Field robots and plane-based remote sensors can and do patrol  earth and the sky to monitor gases that cause climate change.  Standing on three large wheels that help to  avoid it getting stuck in the soil, Norway's  Field Flux robot is able to lower two sampling chambers held on large arms to test soils for tiny amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O). Though carbon dioxide (CO2) is better known when it comes to climate change issues, N2O has a global warming potential that’s over 300 times higher. So a single molecule of N2O is as damaging as 300 CO2 molecules.

Using the robot, a field that took 27 hours to test manually can be done  now in just one hour. The measurements are crucial in controlling N2O as they could allow farmers to treat their soils where needed. The N2O is produced by some soil microorganisms during periods when the soil is not well aerated, for example during heavy rain, or when the soil is tightly packed. Those organisms, mostly bacteria, then use nitrogen oxides instead of oxygen for respiration. Several of those bacteria can respire N2O by using a very special enzyme, the N2O reductase.

The researchers in the NORA project discovered that this enzyme is prevented from functioning correctly in acidic soils, and also when there isn’t sufficient copper present. ‘We looked at the biology of these organisms and how they regulate those processes that are responsible for N2O emissions,’ said Professor Åsa Frostegård, also a microbial ecologist at Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and the coordinator of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions-funded project. ‘We see large differences in how different microbes do these things.’

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