An exact mapping of root zones is essential to understand plant growth, root biomass, and soil functions important for environmental and climatic management and protection. Numerical and experimental techniques of the electrical resistivity tomography were applied in 2D and 3D to resolve small root zones in the centimeter range. Numerically, we studied two scenarios of conductive and resistive root zones as a function of (1) eight different quadripole electrode configurations (standard, nonstandard, and optimized), (2) four different survey designs with electrode arrays at the soil surface and in boreholes, and (3) eight different inversion constraints. The best resolved output tomogram was evaluated semiquantitatively using the criteria of visual similarity to the input model, least data set, rms error, and iteration number and quantitatively by the model difference relative to the input model. The results showed that the surface-borehole configurations have the best resolution for the whole root zone. The single-surface and borehole surveys resolve only the respective upper and middle-lower root parts. The results reflect the potential of the optimization approach to generate small data sets of far higher resolution than the standard sets. Based on these results, we used the surface-borehole survey around a young hibiscus planted in a sandy soil in a laboratory experiment. The surface-borehole surveys using small, optimized configurations result in an optimum spatiotemporal resolution for simultaneous applications for 3D mapping of targets (root zones and water and soil heterogeneities) and 4D monitoring of their processes.

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