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Design and Field Tests of an Access-Tube Soil Water Sensor

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 28(4): 603-610. (doi: 10.13031/2013.42075) @2012
Authors:   J. J. Casanova, S. R. Evett, R. C. Schwartz
Keywords:   Dielectric, Neutron probe, Soil water, Time domain reflectometry

Accurate soil profile water content monitoring at multiple depths has heretofore been possible only using the neutron probe (NP) but with great effort and at infrequent time intervals. Despite the existence of several frequency domain electromagnetic (EM) sensor systems for profile water content measurements, accuracy and spatial representativeness has been precluded by fundamental problems related to soil conductivity and structure effects on the volume explored by the EM field of these sensors, which causes nonrealistic spatial variation in reported profile water contents. Time domain reflectometry (TDR) methods have the distinct advantage of employing a moving EM field that must pass through and be affected by both the drier and wetter soil structures in which the TDR electrodes are embedded. This article describes a profiling water content system based on TDR. The design, laboratory calibration, and field testing is detailed. The sensor system provides unattended, real-time, data acquisition. And, it can be installed without disturbing the soil around the access tube on the outside of which the TDR electrodes are embedded. The correlation coefficient between neutron probe and TDR measured soil water content was 0.94 with a slope of 1.40 and an intercept of -0.08 m3m-3. Bias between TDR and NP readings (TDR-NP) was positive at all depths below 10 cm, ranging from 0.021 and 0.096 m3 m-3. Uncertainty in data of ~0.012 m3 m-3 for soil water, and uncertainty in bulk electrical conductivity of 0.030 S m-1 (both partly due to unreliable mechanical electrical connections) shows that improvements must be made before such a system is acceptable for widespread use.

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