Mapping tree root systems with ground-penetrating radar

Tree Physiol. 1999 Feb;19(2):125-130. doi: 10.1093/treephys/19.2.125.


A ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technique was used to study the three-dimensional distribution of root systems of large (DBH = 14 to 35 cm) oak trees (Quercus petraea (Mattusch.) Liebl.) in relatively dry, luvisoil on loamy deluvium and weathered granodiorite. We used a pulse EKKO 1000 GPR system, a profile grid of 0.25 x 0.25 meters, at 0.05 m intervals, and a signal frequency of 450 MHz, to assure resolution of about 3 cm in both directions (further increases in resolution up to 1 cm are possible with the system). Coarse root density was 6.5 m m(-2) of stand area and 3.3 m m(-3) of soil volume. Maximum rooting depth of the experimental oaks was 2 m, and the root ground plan was significantly larger (about 1.5 times) than the crown ground plan. Based on earlier studies of Quercus robur L. from floodplain forests, where the extent of the root systems was much smaller (root ground plan:crown ground plan ratio of 0.6), we conclude that the high root ground plan:crown ground plan ratio indicates less favorable conditions of water supply at the experimental site than in the floodplain forest. The ground-penetrating radar system is noninvasive and allows relatively rapid and repeated measurements of the distribution of coarse root systems of trees.