Geographisches Institut


Soil spectroscopy for measuring sustainable land management

Spectral characteristics of the soil
Figure 1: Spectral characteristics of the soil are caused by the presence of spectrally-active components:H2O, organic matter, Fe oxides, clay minerals, CaCO3 (source: Ramiro-Lopez and Stevens, 2013; A Guide to vis–NIR Spectroscopy & Multivariate Calibration in R)


Soil spectroscopy is a relatively new cost-efficient method to measure soil properties. Infrared radiation interacts with the molecular interatomic bonds and provokes different vibrations that result in different measureable absorption and reflection spectra of the infrared radiation. Infrared-spectroscopy has become a more and more popular tool for assessing soil properties accurately at low costs. Especially for measurements of soil organic carbon, good prediction results can be obtained. In our spectral laboratory we focus on soil organic matter as the best proxy for soil fertility. In this respect, we try to use this new technique to do measurements in high density and high temporal resolution to detect also small changes in soil organic matter. For farmers, new methods must show benefits in quite a short time period (2-3 years), otherwise they will hardly be applied. This way we want to set up on-farm experiments and evaluate methods for sustainable land management and support farmers in decision-taking.

Our first projects try to assess the impact of shallow incorporation of cover crops (field composting) on soil organic matter. For this purpose, we are running an on-farm experiment in Eastern Switzerland.

Fieldwork Switzerland

Project Details

Team: Simon Oberholzer (Principal Investigator), Prof. Dr. Chinwe Ifejika Speranza (Co-Investigator)

Duration: 2019 - 

Funding: Sustainable Land Management Unit, University of Bern

Contact: Simon Oberholzer,