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Soil moisture and electrical conductivity relationships under typical Loess Plateau land covers

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>21/10/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Vadose Zone Journal
Publication StatusAccepted/In press
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Vegetation changes that are driven by soil conservation measures significantly affect subsurface water flow patterns and soil water status. Much research on water consumption and sustainability of newly introduced vegetation types at the plot scale has been done in the Loess Plateau of China (LPC), typically using local scale measurements of soil water content (SWC). However, information collected at the plot scale cannot readily be up-scaled. Geophysical methods such as electromagnetic induction (EMI) offer large spatial coverage and therefore could bridge between the scales. A non-invasive, multi-coil, frequency domain, EMI instrument was used to measure the apparent soil electrical conductivity (σ_a) from six effective depths under four typical land-covers; shrub, pasture, natural fallow and crop, in the north of the LPC. Concurrently, SWC was monitored to a depth of 4 m depth using an array of 44 neutron probes distributed along the plots. The measurements of σ_a for six effective depths and the integrated SWC over these depths, show consistent behavior. High variability of σ_a under shrub cover, in particular, is consistent with long term variability of SWC, highlighting the potential unsustainability of this land cover. Linear relationships between SWC and σ_a were established using cumulative sensitivity forward models. The conductivity-SWC model parameters show clear variation with depth, despite lack of appreciable textural variation. This is likely related to the combined effect of elevated pore water conductivity as was illustrated by the simulations obtained with water flow and solute transport models. The results of the study highlight the potential for the implementation of the EMI method for investigations of water distribution in the vadose zone of the LPC, and in particular for qualitative mapping of the vulnerability to excessive vegetation demands, and hence unsustainable land cover.