Articles | Volume 15, issue 12
Research article
21 Dec 2011
Research article |  | 21 Dec 2011

Integral quantification of seasonal soil moisture changes in farmland by cosmic-ray neutrons

C. A. Rivera Villarreyes, G. Baroni, and S. E. Oswald

Abstract. Soil moisture at the plot or hill-slope scale is an important link between local vadose zone hydrology and catchment hydrology. However, so far only a few methods are on the way to close this gap between point measurements and remote sensing. One new measurement methodology that could determine integral soil moisture at this scale is the aboveground sensing of cosmic-ray neutrons, more precisely of ground albedo neutrons. The present study performed ground albedo neutron sensing (GANS) at an agricultural field in northern Germany. To test the method it was accompanied by other soil moisture measurements for a summer period with corn crops growing on the field and a later autumn-winter period without crops and a longer period of snow cover. Additionally, meteorological data and aboveground crop biomass were included in the evaluation. Hourly values of ground albedo neutron sensing showed a high statistical variability. Six-hourly values corresponded well with classical soil moisture measurements, after calibration based on one reference dry period and three wet periods of a few days each. Crop biomass seemed to influence the measurements only to minor degree, opposed to snow cover which has a more substantial impact on the measurements. The latter could be quantitatively related to a newly introduced field neutron ratio estimated from neutron counting rates of two energy ranges. Overall, our study outlines a procedure to apply the ground albedo neutron sensing method based on devices now commercially available, without the need for accompanying numerical simulations and suited for longer monitoring periods after initial calibration.