Unique Omani digitalised soil map on anvil

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 A group of researchers at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) has begun preparing an interactive-digitalised platform to unveil the richness, colour, characteristics and diversity of Omani soils — a unique initiative that promises to yield fascinating insights with potential benefit to, among other sectors, agriculture, tourism, education, heritage and culture, project and infrastructure development, and scientific research.
The year-long research study, funded by The Research Council (TRC), is being conducted by BSc. students of SQU’s Department of Soils, Water and Agricultural Engineering from the College of Agricultural and Marine Sciences, jointly with the Department of Computer Sciences from the College of Science. The title of their study is “Omani Soil Map Interactive Platform: Android On-Demand Access Application to Digital Citizen Assisted Science”.
The students’ goal is to develop a mobile app that helps users — whether students, researchers, tourists, professionals, farmers, geoscientists or even project managers — understand and benefit from the digitally available form of soils information and characteristics when traversing the length and breadth of the country.
“The Android-based Omani Soil Map platform is the first such initiative of its kind that will serve as a comprehensive resource on the rich diversity of soils to be found across the Sultanate’’, said Noof al Mukhaini, a member of the research team. “This resources will be made available via an interactive app which, along with GPS features, will enable users to have a glance about the main physico-chemical properties of soils across different topographic landscapes and to understand how the soil in a given area has had an impact on, for example, local vegetation, cultivated crops, building and construction, and other aspects of the local ecosystem’’. Through the Omani Soil Map platform, the public will have an opportunity to participate, share, collaborate and digitally exchange information and knowledge about Omani soils, she said.
According to the researcher, the Sultanate is home to a wide array of soil types that differ in colour, texture and type. Black colour in soil, for example, indicates the presence of organic matter. Reddish soil points to the presence of iron oxide, while grey-coloured soil has ferrous concentrations that haven’t been oxidized and may indicate anaerobic conditions. Whitish soil, on the other hand, has concentrations of salts.
Soil sampling and analysing is planned at several sites in Muscat, Al Dakhiliyah and North and South Al Batinah during the initial part of the study. Sampling at each site typically involves soil profile descriptions and soil classification.
Of particular significance is the sampling of soils in areas that are home to historical landmarks, said Noof. “As part of the Oman Soil Map, we aim to know what is so distinctive about the soil types found in these areas that were used in the construction of historical buildings, such as fortifications, watchtowers or such other structures.
We wish to study the composition of these soils, so we understand how structures built ages ago with these soils have remained stable and sustainable over the centuries. Part of our goal is to try and understand what motivated Omanis in times bygone to choose simple construction materials to build their homes and other structures without resorting to the use of complex construction materials or tools. They were simple, yet innovative, in their choices’’.
At Nizwa Fort, for example, soil sampling will also take into account the soil type and texture, as well as soil pH and salt concentrations. These findings will be shared via the app for the benefit of tourists eager to under the local ecosystems and environments that support certain kinds of vegetation, construction activity in the past, and so on, she noted.
“We anticipate that this study will foster the ethical and ecological appreciation of Omani soils in the mindset of a wide spectrum of people including school pupils, educators, researchers, decision makers, officials, tourists, and historians, among others,” she added.
Supervised by Dr Said al Ismaily, the Oman Soil Map research project is also supported by Noof al Mukhaini, Maimouna al Wahaibi, Yousuf al Rawahi, Ishaq al Naabi, Salha al Bolushi, Ashraf al Sabahi, Al Hussain al Thuhli, and Abdullah al Shibli. The project is funded by the TRC as part of the Faculty Mentored Undergraduate Research Award Programme (FURAP) in the field of environmental and biological resources research.

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