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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Estimating the van Genuchten retention curve parameters of undisturbed soil from a single upward infiltration measurement

D. Moret-Fernández A C , C. Peña-Sancho A , B. Latorre A , Y. Pueyo B and M. V. López A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Departamento de Suelo y Agua, Estación Experimental de Aula Dei, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), PO Box 13034, 50080 Zaragoza, Spain.

B Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Av. Montañana 1005, PO Box 13.034, 50080 Zaragoza, Spain.

C Corresponding author. Email: david@eead.csic.es

Soil Research 55(7) 682-691 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR16333
Submitted: 29 November 2016  Accepted: 7 March 2017   Published: 3 April 2017

Abstract

Estimation of the soil–water retention curve, θ(h), on undisturbed soil samples is of paramount importance to characterise the hydraulic behaviour of soils. Although a method of determining parameters of the water retention curve (α, a scale parameter inversely proportional to mean pore diameter and n, a measure of pore size distribution) from saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ks), sorptivity (S) and the β parameter, using S and β calculated from the inverse analysis of upward infiltration (UI) has been satisfactorily applied to sieved soil samples, its applicability to undisturbed soils has not been tested. The aim of the present study was to show that the method can be applied to undisturbed soil cores representing a range of textures and structures. Undisturbed soil cores were collected using stainless steel cylinders (5 cm internal diameter × 5 cm high) from structured soils located in two different places: (1) an agricultural loam soil under conventional, reduced and no tillage systems; and (2) a loam soil under grazed and ungrazed natural shrubland. The α and n values estimated for the different soils using the UI method were compared with those calculated using time domain reflectometry (TDR) pressure cells (PC) for pressure heads of –0.5, –1.5, –3, –5, –10 and –50 kPa. To compare the two methods, α values measured with UI were calculated to the drying branch of θ(h). For each treatment, three replicates of UI and PC calculations were performed. The results showed that the 5-cm high cylinders used in all experiments provided accurate estimates of S and β. Overall, the α and n values estimated with UI were larger than those measured with PC. These differences could be attributed, in part, to limitations of the PC method. On average, the n values calculated from the optimised S and β data were 5% larger than those obtained with PC. A relationship with a slope close to 1 fitted the n values estimated using both methods (nPC = 0.73 nUI + 0.49; R2 = 0.78, P < 0.05). The results show that the UI method is a promising technique to estimate the hydraulic properties of undisturbed soil samples.

Additional keywords: hydraulic conductivity, soil tillage, sorptivity.


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