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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2016-40
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2016-40
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Original research article 22 Jun 2016

Original research article | 22 Jun 2016

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It has been under review for the journal SOIL (SOIL). A final paper in SOIL is not foreseen.

Approaches to calibrate in-situ capacitance soil moisture sensors and some of their implications

N. A. L. Archer1, B. R. Rawlins2, B. P. Machant2, J. D. Mackay2, and P. I. Meldrum2 N. A. L. Archer et al.
  • 1British Geological Survey, Lyell Centre, Research Avenue South, Edinburgh EH14 4AP
  • 2British Geological Survey, Environmental Science Centre, Nicker Hill, Keyworth, Nottingham, NG12 5GG

Abstract. Capacitance probes are increasingly being used to monitor volumetric water content (VWC) in field conditions and are provided with in-built factory calibrations so they can be deployed at a field site without the requirement for local calibration. These calibrations may not always have acceptable accuracy and therefore to improve the accuracy of such calibrations soil-specific laboratory or field calibrations are required. In some cases, manufacturers suggest calibration is undertaken on soil in which the structure has been removed (through sieving or grinding), whilst in other cases manufacturers suggest structure may be retained. The objectives of this investigation were to (i) demonstrate the differences in laboratory calibration of the sensors using both structured and unstructured soils, (ii) compare moisture contents at a range of suctions with those predicted from soil moisture release curves for their texture classes (iii) compare the magnitude of errors for field measurements of soil moisture based on the original factory calibrations and the laboratory-based calibrations using structured soil.

Grinding and sieving clay soils to < 2 mm and then repacking the clay to bulk densities similar to in-situ field bulk densities was found not to represent the same field conditions for accurate VWC. When adding > 50 % water to the ground and sieved soil samples, dielectric values to VWC > 50 % were observed to be significantly lower than using undisturbed soil cores taken from the field and therefore undisturbed soil cores were considered to be better to calibrate capacitance probes. Generic factory calibrations for most soil sensors have a range of measurement from 0 to 50 %, which is not appropriate for the studied clay-rich soil, where ponding can occur during persistent rain events, which are common in temperate regions.

N. A. L. Archer et al.
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N. A. L. Archer et al.
N. A. L. Archer et al.
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Short summary
This study investigates the importance of using techniques, such as soil water release curves, soil shrinkage measurements and field observations to create reference points to determine the best-fit calibrations for estimating volumetric water content (VWC). We also show that calibrating soil moisture sensors in disturbed clay soils over-estimates VWC and we suggest that undisturbed soil cores provide better calibrations to estimate VWC in clay soils.
This study investigates the importance of using techniques, such as soil water release curves,...
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