Impact of calibrating a low-cost capacitance-based soil moisture sensor on AquaCrop model performance

Soham Adla*, Felix Bruckmaier, Leonardo F. Arias-Rodriguez, Shivam Tripathi, Saket Pande, Markus Disse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Sensor data and agro-hydrological modeling have been combined to improve irrigation management. Crop water models simulating crop growth and production in response to the soil-water environment need to be parsimonious in terms of structure, inputs and parameters to be applied in data scarce regions. Irrigation management using soil moisture sensors requires them to be site-calibrated, low-cost, and maintainable. Therefore, there is a need for parsimonious crop modeling combined with low-cost soil moisture sensing without losing predictive capability. This study calibrated the low-cost capacitance-based Spectrum Inc. SM100 soil moisture sensor using multiple least squares and machine learning models, with both laboratory and field data. The best calibration technique, field-based piece-wise linear regression (calibration r2 = 0.76, RMSE = 3.13 %, validation r2 = 0.67, RMSE = 4.57 %), was used to study the effect of sensor calibration on the performance of the FAO AquaCrop Open Source (AquaCrop-OS) model by calibrating its soil hydraulic parameters. This approach was tested during the wheat cropping season in 2018, in Kanpur (India), in the Indo-Gangetic plains, resulting in some best practices regarding sensor calibration being recommended. The soil moisture sensor was calibrated best in field conditions against a secondary standard sensor (UGT GmbH. SMT100) taken as a reference (r2 = 0.67, RMSE = 4.57 %), followed by laboratory calibration against gravimetric soil moisture using the dry-down (r2 = 0.66, RMSE = 5.26 %) and wet-up curves respectively (r2 = 0.62, RMSE = 6.29 %). Moreover, model overfitting with machine learning algorithms led to poor field validation performance. The soil moisture simulation of AquaCrop-OS improved significantly by incorporating raw reference sensor and calibrated low-cost sensor data. There were non-significant impacts on biomass simulation, but water productivity improved significantly. Notably, using raw low-cost sensor data to calibrate AquaCrop led to poorer performances than using the literature. Hence using literature values could save sensor costs without compromising model performance if sensor calibration was not possible. The results suggest the essentiality of calibrating low-cost soil moisture sensors for crop modeling calibration to improve crop water productivity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120248
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • AquaCrop
  • Calibration
  • Crop modeling
  • Low-cost soil moisture sensor
  • Machine learning
  • Water productivity


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