You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Soil sensor system measures machine impacts during forest operations

Photo of Construction machines in theNorth Mills Area, Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, NC.Construction machines in theNorth Mills Area, Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, NC.Snapshot : The heavy machinery required for forest operations can affect soil. Forest Service scientists compared the impact of a dozer and a skidder, using an inexpensive soil sensor system. The study suggests that dozer traffic in forests has less impact on some soil properties. The new information can help forest industries meet their economic goals while also protecting soil resources and forest productivity.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Carter, Emily A. 
Research Location : Blacksburg, VA
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1324


Mechanized forest operations can induce changes in soil properties with the potential to negatively impact site sustainability and forest productivity. The ability to predict the intensity and spatial variability of machine-induced impacts is hampered by a lack of knowledge regarding specific impacts of forest machinery on intrinsic soil properties. Managers need a way to measure pressures exerted by forest machinery as they traverse forest landscapes and to link these pressures to soil response based on local site conditions. Forest Service scientists constructed an inexpensive soil sensor that consisted of a rubber bulb and hydraulic hose connected to a pressure transducer that emits an electrical signal in response to machine-induced stresses and records output with a data logger. An initial evaluation of the sensor system compared stresses imposed by two machines, a dozer versus a skidder, in an upland hardwood and pine stand in Virginia, and the soil response. Soil sensors were able to detect maximum stresses achieved by a skidder after four passes, while similar stress levels were achieved by the dozer after twelve passes. Soil responses associated with machine traffic showed less change in bulk density, total porosity, and mechanical resistance under dozer traffic. Continued evaluation of the response of forest landscapes to machine equipment through utilization of the soil sensor system is expected to provide the ability to predict stress impacts under a variety of soil conditions.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA