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Accounting for analytical and proximal soil sensing errors in digital soil mapping

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Digital soil mapping (DSM) approaches provide soil information by utilising the relationship between soil properties and environmental variables. Calibration of DSM models requires measurements that may often have substantial measurement errors which propagate to the DSM outputs and need to be accounted for. This study applied a geostatistical-based DSM approach that incorporates measurement error variances in the covariance structure of the spatial model, weights measurements in accordance with their measurement accuracies and assesses the effects of measurement errors on the accuracies of DSM outputs. The method was applied in the Western Cameroon, where soil samples from 480 locations were collected and analysed for pH, clay and soil organic carbon (SOC) using conventional and mid-infrared spectroscopy methods. Variogram parameters and regression coefficients were estimated using residual maximum likelihood under two scenarios: with and without taking measurement errors into account. Performance of the spatial models in the two scenarios was compared using validation metrics obtained with three types of cross-validation. Acknowledging measurement errors impacted the regression coefficients and influenced the variogram parameters by reducing the nugget and sill variance for the three soil properties. Validation metrics including mean error, root mean square error and model efficiency coefficient were quite similar in both scenarios, but the prediction uncertainties were more realistically quantified by the models that account for measurement errors, as indicated by accuracy plots. There were relatively small absolute differences in predicted values of soil properties of up to 0.1 for pH, 1.6% for clay and 2 g/kg for SOC between the two scenarios. We emphasised the need of incorporating measurement errors in DSM approaches to improve uncertainty quantification, particularly when applying spectroscopy for estimating soil properties. Further development of the approach is the extension to non-linear machine learning regression methods.

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