Navin Thapa

Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Earth System Science & Policy

First Advisor

Soizik Laguette


Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L), a native warm-season perennial grass, grows in Central and North American tall-grass prairie. The plant is immense biomass producer and can reach heights up to three meters or more in wet areas. Its high lignocellulosic content makes switchgrass an appropriate candidate for bio-ethanol production. Annual crops, used for bioenergy production such as corn, soybeans, often results in loss of soil organic matter and release of soil carbon, whereas perennial crops like switchgrass can help build soil organic matter and store more soil carbon due to the large amount of underground biomass they produce.

North Dakota has been identified as a potential area for perennial switchgrass biomass production for bioenergy purpose. Switchgrass is a C4 grass that has the potential as feedstock for a cellulosic based biofuels industry in the Northern Great Plains. The objective of the present study is to conduct a GIS and Remote Sensing-based land suitability evaluation for switchgrass production in North Dakota. The process involved spatial analysis of several physiographical data including climate, soil and land use. Land suitability for switchgrass was determined as a function of agro-climatic factors governing switchgrass establishment, potential biomass yield, and long term land use practice in North Dakota.

The outputs of the analysis were agro-climatic establishment risk map, switchgrass yield potential map and temporal land use variation map in North Dakota. A switchgrass suitability map was the final outcome of the analysis which was a weighted composite overlay of the analyzed factors governing switchgrass production. The suitability map showed relative land suitability for switchgrass production in North Dakota without competing with local agriculture or negatively impacting permanent grassland. The study will be helpful for users or decision makers in planning switchgrass biomass feedstock production and policy development governing switchgrass adaptation in North Dakota.