Can Low-Cost, Handheld Spectroscopy Tools Coupled with Remote Sensing Accurately Estimate Soil Organic Carbon in Semi-Arid Grazing Lands?

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    Soil organic carbon influences several landscape ecological processes, and soils are becoming recognized as a mechanism to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. There is a need to define methods and technologies for addressing soils' spatial variability as well as the time and cost of sampling soil organic carbon (SOC). Visible and near-infrared spectroscopy have been suggested as a sampling tool to reduce inventory cost. We sampled nineteen ranch properties totaling 17,347 ha across Oklahoma and Texas in 2019 to evaluate the effectiveness and accuracy of a handheld reflectometer (Our Sci, Ann Arbor, MI, USA) (370-940 nm) and existing remote sensing approaches to estimate SOC in semi-arid grazing lands. Our data suggest that the Our Sci Reflectometer estimated soil organic carbon with a precision of approximately (+/- 0.3% SOC); however, it was least accurate at higher carbon concentrations. The Our Sci reflectometer, although consistently accurate at lower SOC concentrations, was still less accurate than a model built using only remote sensing and digital soil map data as predictors. Combining the two data sources was the most accurate means of determining SOC. Our results indicated that the Our Sci handheld Vis-NIR reflectometer tested may have only limited applications for reducing inventory costs at scale.