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Sensors and data loggers prove reliable and cost-effective for three-year climat




Sensors and data loggers prove reliable and cost-effective for three-year climate change study 


Labcell, the UK distributor for Decagon Devices (METER Group), has supplied a number of sensors and data loggers that are being used successfully in a study to investigate the effects of climate change on Ethiopian coffee farming. The instrumentation, manufactured by Decagon Devices (METER Group), has proved to be 100 per cent reliable when left unattended for a year at a time to collect data relating to temperature, rainfall, soil moisture and water potential.

Ethiopia is experiencing climate change, with increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall. As a result, coffee farmers are seeing yields reduce. In Ethiopia, the Arabica coffee plants naturally grow in highland forest regions, which raises the possibility that coffee-growing could be moved to higher altitudes to counter the effect of climate change. If nothing is done, it is predicted that 60 per cent of Ethiopia's coffee production areas could become unsuitable for growing coffee by the end of the century. This is important because coffee generated one-quarter of Ethiopia's export earnings in 2015/16 and the coffee growing and processing industry provides livelihoods for approximately 15 million Ethiopians. Ethiopia is the world's fifth largest producer of coffee, exporting around 180,000 metric tonnes in 2015/16, worth some US$800 million.

A study is therefore being undertaken by scientists at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and collaborators in Ethiopia. Although the work is ongoing, at the end of the initial three-year study a paper was published inNature Plantsentitled ‘Resilience potential of the Ethiopian coffee sector under climate change'. This paper described how moving coffee production to higher ground, together with measures to conserve and restore forest areas, could substantially increase the total area suitable for coffee growing in Ethiopia.

For the Ethiopia study considerable use was made of detailed computer modelling developed by the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), together with high-resolution satellite imagery. However, the scientists needed to collect information about temperature, rainfall, soil moisture and water potential across a number of sites to ground truth (corroborate) the data collected remotely and inferred from other sources. This data needed to be logged over a period of a year before being collected for analysis and storage. Initially the scientists purchased instrumentation from another supplier but the loggers proved complex to use and, worse still, unreliable. Not only did this cost thousands of pounds but it also set the project back by a year because the requisite data was not collected.

Dr Aaron Davis of RBG Kew, the co-leader of the research project, takes up the story: "A colleague recommended the Decagon Devices (METER Group) data loggers, so we approached the UK distributor, Labcell. Simon Hughes at Labcell could not have been more helpful. The loggers are far easier to set up and use than the ones we had previously struggled with, thanks in part to features that all but eliminate the chance of making errors. After conducting trials in Richmond so we could familiarise ourselves with the instrumentation and check it was functioning correctly, we took five sets to Ethiopia."

Each set-up comprises an EM50 data logger, 10HS soil moisture sensor, MPS-6 dielectric water potential sensor and rain gauge. The soil sensors are buried at the required depth - in some cases two or more are buried at different depths at the same location - and the logger is mounted on a simple steel post procured locally. To provide protection from the elements, each logger is covered by an adapted water carrier, also sourced locally. The instrumentation had to be compact, light, portable and robust because it needed to be flown to Ethiopia, transported overland for three days to the installation site, and then left unattended.

Dr Davis continues: "After a year we returned to collect the data. Given our previous experience we were somewhat apprehensive when we attached the laptop to the first EM50 logger but there was no need, it had collected the data exactly as required. The other four loggers yielded high-quality data as well. I'm pleased to say that after three years in the field, the loggers and sensors have proved to be 100 per cent reliable. With two more years' data still to collect, I have every confidence that the loggers will continue to operate as required."

Over the past three years the instrumentation has been upgraded from lithium batteries to small solar panels, as the batteries' power reserves were adequate but diminishing by the end of 12 months. Labcell provided the necessary advice and support for this modification. RBG Kew is now working with Labcell to develop similar instrumentation systems that can have a smaller Decagon EM5B data logger fully enclosed in a sealed section of pipe and buried to provide protection from weeding, wild animals and curious children.

Currently Dr Davis and his colleagues are planning to purchase a total of five data logging systems for another project in Ethiopia, plus more Decagon instrumentation for use in Uganda; this project will use Decagon ProCheck handheld devices for reading measured values, rather than logging the data over extended periods.

Dr Davis concludes: "We have been delighted with the Decagon (METER Group) data loggers and sensors, and the support we have had from Labcell has been exceptional. Currently there is a huge amount of research relating to climate change but many researchers are cautious about collecting data in the field. Labcell certainly made it easy, with our ‘mini climate stations' proving to be accurate, easy to use, robust, reliable and cost-effective. In particular, logging water potential was not really possible prior to 2012 but the MPS6 and 10HS have transformed this area of data collection."

Labcell is the sole UK distributor for Decagon Devices' (METER Group) range of soil sensors and data loggers. Download detailed data sheets directly from Labcell's website atwww.labcell.comor contact the company with specific enquiries by telephone on +44 (0)1420 568150 or 




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