Acoustic compaction layer detection

T. E. Grift, M. Z. Tekeste, R. L. Raper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ASAE standardized tool to detect the depth and strength of compaction layers in the field is the cone penetrometer. Since this method is point-to-point, researchers have experimented with on-the-fly alternatives that can be used as, or in combination with, a standard tillage tool. On-the-fly compaction layer sensing also enables adaptive tillage, where the soil is only tilled as deep as necessary, which can lead to significant energy savings and erosion reduction. Wedged tips, strain gauges mounted on a deflecting tine, air bubbles pushed into the soil, as well as ground-penetrating radar have been tested for this purpose. In this research, passive acoustics was used to detect the compaction layer by recording the sound of a cone being drawn through the soil. The premise was that a more compacted layer should cause higher sound levels, which might reveal the depth and strength of the compaction layer. Two experiments were conducted in the soil bins of the USDA-ARS National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, Alabama. First, constant-depth tests (15 and 30 cm) at three compaction levels (0.72, 2.8, and 3.6 MPa) revealed the relationship of sound amplitude with depth and compaction. Second, to test the detection capability, the cone was gradually inserted in the soil, passing through an artificial compaction layer. A windowed, short-time Fourier transform (STFT) analysis showed that the compaction layer is detectable since the sound amplitude was positively related to depth and compaction levels, but only in the highest frequency range of the spectrum. This led to the conjecture that the soil-cone interface acts as a low-pass filtering mechanism, where the cutoff frequency becomes higher in the compaction layer due to a more intimate contact between sensor and soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1723-1730
Number of pages8
JournalTransactions of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Plow pan
  • Precision tillage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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