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

Tuvia Turkeltaub, Jiao Wang, Qinbo Cheng, Xiaoxu Jia, Yuanjun Zhu, Ming An Shao, Andrew Binley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 noninvasive, multicoil, frequency domain, EMI instrument was used to measure the apparent soil electrical conductivity (σa) 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 using an array of 44 neutron probes distributed along the plots. The measurements of σa for six effective depths and the integrated SWC over these depths, show consistent behavior. High variability of σa 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 σa 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20174
JournalVadose Zone Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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