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Research assistant wins national turf award at conference

A graduate research assistant at New Mexico State University won first place recently at a national conference for her research into how salinity can affect moisture readings in soils.

Elena Sevostianova, with the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, won for her poster presentation in the turfgrass category on the "Accuracy of Moisture Sensors in Saline Soils" at the recent National Agronomy Meeting in Houston, Texas. Bernd Leinauer, a specialist in Extension Plant Sciences, Manoj K. Shukla, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, and Bernd Maier, a viticulturist specialist with Extension Plant Services, assisted Sevostianova on the project.

"Although her poster and work was awarded because of the potential to have an immediate beneficial impact on the turf industry, the work reaches much further than only the turf industry. These sensors can be used also in agriculture where saline groundwater is used for irrigation and salt accumulation needs to be monitored to ensure a healthy crop," said Leinauer.

For the project, a study was conducted at the university to compare the accuracy of five soil moisture sensors at a wide range of salinity in two types of soils. The study was funded through the Rio Grande Basin Initiative and through a grant from the Water Resources Research Institute.

The objective of the yearlong project was to determine if salinity affects moisture readings of soil sensors in two different types of soil. The researchers tried to determine the salinity threshold at which the sensors failed to measure the moisture accurately.

In the experiment, the soil sensors accurately measured moisture in loamy, or fertile, sand and silt loam soil at salinity levels ranging between 3 and 24 deciSiemens per meter, the measurement used to determine soil salinity. However, all of the sensors needed salinity-specific calibration. It was found that some sensors could also be used to determine soil bulk electrical conductivity.

Sevostianova said she was happy for her win and that her hard work paid off.

"It's definitely well-deserved. She worked hard," Leinauer said. "That's definitely something the poster doesn't show."

Sevostianova is not the first graduate to receive first place at the national competition. Previous winners were Casey Johnson and Yoshiaki Ikemura for their presentations on "Turfgrass Establishment with Saline Goundwater" and "Spectroradiometry and Digital Image Analysis of Drought and Salinity Stressed Turfgrasses" respectively.

Sevostianova received a $300 prize for her winning poster presentation. Of about 260 presentations, 50 percent were poster presentations.

The winning research was all done in a lab. The next step, Sevostianova said, is to now take the experiment out into the field. The outdoor experiments will use two of the five sensors that were found to give the most accurate results, the Acclima and the Turfguard sensor.
Sevostianova said they will use the two types of sensors to monitor moisture and salinity at three different soil depths to see how far down the salinity penetrates.