Scientists at Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel have developed what is literally a 'thermometer' for the Earth, which would assess the health of our planet.
Known as the "Optical Soil Dipstick" (OSD), the instrument has been developed by Professor Eyal Ben-Dor of TAU's Department of Geography, along with his team.
According to Prof. Eyal Ben-Dor, his soil dipstick will help scientists, urban planners and farmers understand the changing health of the soil, as well as its agricultural potential and other associated concerns.
"I was always attracted to drug development and diagnostics, which spurred the development of this OSD device," he said.
"It's like a diagnostic device that measures soil health. Through a small hole in the surface of the earth, we can assess what lies beneath it," he added.
Prof. Ben-Dor explained that as climate change alters our planet radically, this dipstick could instantly tell geographers what parts of the US are best - or worst - for farming.
For authorities in California, it is already providing proof that organic farms are chemical-free, and it could be used as a whistle-blower to catch environmental industrial polluters.
Today, there is no simple and inexpensive way to test for soil health in the field.
Testing can be much simpler with Prof. Ben-Dor's dipstick, which can be used by non-professionals.
The thin catheter-like device is inserted into a small hole in the soil to give real-time, immediately accurate and reliable information on pollution and the all-round health of the soil.
Analyzing chemical and physical properties, the dipstick outputs its data to a handheld device or computer.
"To optimize production and save costs, farmers need to know if their crops are getting the right blend of minerals. This tool could permit them to pursue 'precision agriculture'," said Prof. Ben-Dor.
The OSD, which is expected to cost about 10,000 dollars per unit per application, allows technicians to determine if the soil needs water or is contaminated.
It also provides information about the condition of root zones where crops are growing.
According to the researchers, the quality of information is identical to that provided by large government laboratories.
Prof. Ben-Dor said that these dipsticks can also be remotely and wirelessly networked to airplanes and satellites, providing the most detailed, comprehensive and reliable soil map of the US.
The OSD is currently in a prototype stage and is set for commercialization. If the right strategic partner is found, a new evice could be on the shelves, and in the ground, within the year.