Abstract

Knowledge of soil moisture dynamics and its spatial variability is essential to improve our understanding of root water uptake and soil moisture redistribution at the local scale and the field scale. We investigated the potential and limitations of electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) to measure three-dimensional soil moisture changes and variability in a large, undisturbed, cropped soil column and examined the interactions between soil and root system. Our analysis sustained the value of ERT as a tool to monitor and quantify water contents and water content changes in the soil, as long as the root biomass does not influence the observed resistivity. This is shown using a global water mass balance and a local validation using time domain reflectometry (TDR) probes. The observed soil moisture variability was rather high compared to values reported in the literature for bare soil. The measured water depletion rate, being the result of combined effects of root water uptake and soil water redistribution, was compared with the evaporative demand and root length densities. We observed a gradual downward movement of the maximum water depletion rate combined with periods of redistribution when there was less transpiration. Finally, the maximum root length density was observed at −70 cm depth, pointing out that root architecture can strongly depend on soil characteristics and states.

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