Physics and Astronomy Professor Douglas Durian on Optimizing Crop Irrigation

Improving crop yields in marginal, sandy soils is critical to feeding the world’s growing population. But when water is added to dry soils—either from rainfall or irrigation sources—it tends to flow in channels, as opposed to spreading out evenly, an effect that prevents water from reaching all plant roots. Douglas Durian at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and his colleagues have now modeled sandy soils in the laboratory, identifying several strategies that can suppress the formation of water channels and ensure that water is more uniformly distributed to crops.

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