Biological Systems Engineering


First Advisor

Aaron Mittelstet

Second Advisor

Nancy Shank

Date of this Version



Johnson, J. E. (2020). Application of an Ultrasonic Sensor to Monitor Soil Erosion and Deposition (Master's Thesis). Biological Systems Engineering--Dissertations, Theses, and Student Research. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Agricultural and Biological Systems Engineering, Under the Supervision of Professors Aaron Mittelstet and Nancy Shank. Lincoln, Nebraska: May 2020

Copyright 2020 Jessica E. Johnson


While erosion and deposition are naturally occurring processes, these processes can be accelerated by human influences. The acceleration of erosion causes damage to human assets and costs billions of dollars to mitigate. Monitoring erosion at high resolutions can provide researchers and managers the data necessary to help manage erosion. Current erosion monitoring methods tend to be invasive to the area, record low frequency measurements, have a narrow spatial range of measurement, or are very expensive. There is a need for an affordable monitoring system capable of monitoring erosion and deposition non-invasively at a high resolution. The objectives of this research were to (1) design and construct a non-invasive sediment monitoring system (SMS) using an ultrasonic sensor capable of monitoring erosion and deposition continuously, (2) test the system in the lab and field, (3) and determine the applications and limitations of the system. The ultrasonic sensor measures the time of reflectance of sound waves to calculate the distance to the area non-invasively. The SMS was tested in the lab to determine the extent to which the soil type, slope, surface topography, change in distance and vegetation impact the SMS’s ultrasonic sensor’s measurement. It was found that the soil type, slope and surface topography had little effect on the measurement, but the change in distance of the measurement and the introduction of vegetation impacted the measurement. The error in measurement increased as the sensing distance increased, and vegetation interferes with the measurement. In the field during high flows, as erosion and deposition occur, the changes in distance were determined in near real-time, allowing for the calculation of erosion and deposition quantities. The system was deployed to monitor deposition on sandy streambanks in the Nebraska Sandhills and erosion on a streambank and field plot in Lincoln, Nebraska. The system was proven successful in measuring sediment change during high flow events but yielded some error; ±1.06 mm in controlled lab settings and ±10.79 mm when subjected to environmental factors such as temperature, relative humidity and wind.

Advisors: Aaron Mittelstet and Nancy Shank