Abstract

In this technical note we present the design, installation, and evaluation of a field monitoring system to directly measure water fluxes through a vadose zone. The system is based on use of relatively new measurement technology—automated equilibrium tension lysimeters (AETLs). An AETL uses a porous sintered stainless-steel plate to provide a comparatively large sampling area (0.20 m2) with a continuously controlled vacuum applied under the plate. This vacuum is in “equilibrium” with the surrounding vadose zone tension to ensure measured fluxes represent those under undisturbed conditions. Fifteen of these AETLs have been installed at five depths through a layered volcanic vadose zone to study the impact of land use changes on water quality in Lake Taupo, New Zealand. We describe the development and testing of the AETLs, the methods used for installing these devices, a condensed data set of the measured physical properties of the vadose zone, and the initial results from the in situ operation of the AETLs, including the preliminary results from a bromide tracer test. For an AETL installed at the 0.4-m depth, where soil pressure heads are most dynamic, the average deviation between the target reference pressure head, as measured in the undisturbed vadose zone and the pressure head measured above the sampling plate was only 5.4 hPa over a 180-d period. The bromide recovered in an AETL at the same depth was equivalent to 96% of the bromide pulse applied onto the surface area directly above the AETL. We conclude that this measurement technique provides an accurate and robust method of measuring vadose zone fluxes. These measurements can ultimately contribute to better understanding of the water transport and contaminant transformation processes through vadose zones.

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