Application of ground penetrating radar for coarse root detection and quantification: A review

Li Guo, Jin Chen, Xihong Cui, Bihang Fan, Henry Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


Background and Scope: Because of the crucial role coarse roots (>2 mm diameter) play in plant functions and terrestrial ecosystems, detecting and quantifying the size, architecture, and biomass of coarse roots are important. Traditional excavation methods are labor intensive and destructive, with limited quantification and repeatability of measurements over time. As a nondestructive geophysical tool for delineating buried features in shallow subsurface, ground penetrating radar (GPR) has been applied for coarse root detection since 1999. This article reviews the state-of-knowledge of coarse root detection and quantification using GPR, and discusses its potentials, constraints, possible solutions, and future outlooks. Some useful suggestions are provided that can guide future studies in this field. Conclusions: The feasibility and accuracy of coarse root investigation by GPR have been tested in various site conditions (mostly in controlled conditions or within plantations) and for different plant species (mostly tree root systems). Thus far, single coarse root identification and coarse root system mapping have been conducted using GPR, including roots under pavements in urban environment. Coarse root diameter and biomass have been estimated from indexes extracted from root GPR radargrams. Coarse root development can be observed by repeated GPR scanning over time. Successful GPR-based coarse root investigation is site specific, and only under suitable conditions can reliable measurements be accomplished. The best quality of root detection by GPR is achieved in well-drained and electrically-resistive soils (such as sands) under dry conditions. Numerous factors such as local soil conditions, root electromagnetic properties, and GPR antenna frequency can impact the reliability and accuracy of GPR detection and quantification of coarse roots. As GPR design, data processing software, field data collection protocols, and root parameters estimation methods are continuously improved, this noninvasive technique could offer greater potential to study coarse roots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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