Geostatistical analysis of soil hydrologic properties in a field plot

Deborah E. Greenholtz, T. C. Jim Yeh, Maliha S.B. Nash, Peter J. Wierenga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


A 91-m transect was set up in an irrigated field near Las Cruces, New Mexico to obtain soil water tension and water content data to investigate their spatial variability. A total of 455 sampling points were monitored along a grid consisting of 91 stations placed 1 m apart by 5 depths per station (at 0.3, 0.6, 0.9, 1.2 and 1.5 m below the surface). Post-irrigation tension and wetness measurements were recorded over 45 days at 11 time periods. Soil water tension was measured with tensiometers using a hand-held pressure transducer. A neutron probe was used to obtain volumetric water content. Using the observed wetness and tension data, unsaturated hydraulic conductivity values were derived (using a cubic spline function to estimate the gradient), and an exponential model was used to fit the calculated conductivity-tension curves to obtain hydraulic conductivity parameter values. The spatial and temporal variability of wetness, tension, saturated hydraulic conductivity and pore-size distribution parameters, and texture at the 0.3-m depth were examined using geostatistical techniques. The exponential model was found to inadequately describe the hydraulic conductivity/tension relationship for the full range of tension, particularly in the tension range near saturation. The derived values of the saturated hydraulic conductivity parameter were much greater than expected and do not correspond to reasonable saturated hydraulic conductivity values. All of the soil parameters studied exhibited large spatial variability horizontally and vertically in the field. Ranges of dependence determined from semivariogram analysis over the 44-day drainage period are 3-32 m for wetness, 6-34 m for soil water tension, 5-35 m for natural log of saturated hydraulic conductivity parameters, 5-11 m for pore-size distribution parameter, and 8-24 m for percent sand, silt and clay at the 0.3 m depth. An alternate hole-effect model is suggested to describe the texture semivariograms. It was determined that the variance of volumetric water content generally increased at each depth over the measured time periods, which is consistent with certain past field studies and a stochastic analysis of unsaturated flow in heterogeneous soils. Future research is recommended relating soil texture to soil hydrologic parameters with the goal of predicting soil behavior with less extensive sampling schemes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-250
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Dec 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology

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