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Measuring Soil Water Content With Time Domain Reflectometry: An Improved Calibration Considering Soil Bulk Density

Ju, Zhaoqiang1; Liu, Xiaona2; Ren, Tusheng3; Hu, Chunsheng1

doi: 10.1097/SS.0b013e3181f55aa3
Technical Article

Time domain reflectometry has been used extensively for measuring soil water content (θv) based on the relationship between θv and dielectric constant (K). The objective of this study was to develop an improved θv-K equation by including soil bulk density (ρb). Laboratory-measured θv, ρb, and K data on 12 soils of different textures were used to establish the calibration equation. The performance of the new equation was then evaluated on independent soils under field conditions. The results showed that the Topp equation (Topp, G. C., J. L. Davis, and A. P. Annan. 1980. Electromagnetic determination of soil water content: Measurements in coaxial transmission lines. Water Resour. Res. 16:574-582) worked well on soils of different types and textures, in the intermediate ρb range (1.20-1.40 g cm−3) but produced large discrepancy on soil with low ρb values. On the other hand, the errors of θv estimated from the new equation were generally within ±0.02 cm3 cm−3. In addition, the new equation performed better than the previous calibration equations (Roth, K., R. Shulin, H. Flühler, and W. Attinger. 1990. Calibration of time domain reflectometry for water content measurement using a composite dielectric approach. Water Resour. Res. 26:2267-2273; Malicki, M. A., R. Plagge, and C. H. Roth. 1996. Improving the calibration of dielectric TDR soil moisture determination taking into account the solid soil. Eur. J. Soil Sci. 47:357-366.) that had considered soil bulk density.

1Key Laboratory of Agricultural Water Resources, Center for Agricultural Resources Research, Institute of Genetics and Development Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 286 Huaizhon Rd., Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China. Mr. Chunsheng Hu is corresponding author. E-mail:

2Institute of Environmental Science, Taiyuan University of Science and Technology, Taiyuan, Shanxi, China.

3Department of Soil and Water, College of Resource and Environmental Science, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China.

Received January 8, 2010.

Accepted for publication August 2, 2010.

This research was funded by the Innovation Knowledge Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. KZCX2-YW-Q02 and KSCX2-YW-449) and by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30870456)

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.