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Machine learning with GA optimization to model the agricultural soil-landscape of Germany: An approach involving soil functional types with their multivariate parameter distributions along the depth profile

Societal demands on soil functionality in agricultural soil-landscapes are confronted with yield losses and environmental impact. Soil functional information at national scale isrequired to address these challenges. On behalf of the well-known theory that soils and their site-specific characteristics are the product of the interaction of the soil-forming factors, pedometricians seek to model the soil-landscape relationship using machine learning. Following the rationale that similarity in soils is reflected by similarity in landscape characteristics, we defined soil functional types (SFTs) which were projected into space by machine learning. Each SFT is described by a multivariate soil parameter distribution along its depth profile. SFTs were derived by employing multivariate similarity analysis on the dataset of the Agricultural Soil Inventory. Soil profiles were compared on behalf of differing sets of soil properties considering the top 100 and 200 cm, respectively. Various depth weighting coefficients were tested to attribute topsoil properties higher importance. Support vector machine (SVM) models were then trained employing optimization with a distributed multiple-population hybrid Genetic algorithm for parameter tuning. Model training, tuning, and evaluation were implemented in a nested k-fold cross-validation approach to avoid overfitting. With regards to the SFTs, organic soils were differentiated from mineral soils of various particle size distributions being partly influenced by waterlogging and groundwater. Further SFTs reflect soils with a depth limitation within the top 100 cm and high stone content. Altogether, with SVM predictive model accuracies between 0.7 and 0.9, the agricultural soil-landscape of Germany was represented with eight SFTs. Soil functionality with regards to the soil’s capacity to store plant-available water and soil organic carbon is well characterized. Four additional soil functions are described to a certain extent. An extension of the approach to fully cover soil functions such as nutrient cycling, agricultural biomass production, filtering of contaminants, and soil as a habitat for soil biota is possible with the inclusion of additional soil properties. Altogether, the developed data product represents the 3D multivariate soil parameter space. Its agglomerated simplicity into a limited number of spatially allocated process units provides the basis to run agricultural process models at national scale (Germany).



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