Articles | Volume 15, issue 12
Research article
22 Dec 2011
Research article |  | 22 Dec 2011

Potential and limitations of using soil mapping information to understand landscape hydrology

F. Terribile, A. Coppola, G. Langella, M. Martina, and A. Basile

Abstract. This paper addresses the following points: how can whole soil data from normally available soil mapping databases (both conventional and those integrated by digital soil mapping procedures) be usefully employed in hydrology? Answering this question requires a detailed knowledge of the quality and quantity of information embedded in and behind a soil map.

To this end a description of the process of drafting soil maps was prepared (which is included in Appendix A of this paper). Then a detailed screening of content and availability of soil maps and database was performed, with the objective of an analytical evaluation of the potential and the limitations of soil data obtained through soil surveys and soil mapping. Then we reclassified the soil features according to their direct, indirect or low hydrologic relevance. During this phase, we also included information regarding whether this data was obtained by qualitative, semi-quantitative or quantitative methods. The analysis was performed according to two main points of concern: (i) the hydrological interpretation of the soil data and (ii) the quality of the estimate or measurement of the soil feature.

The interaction between pedology and hydrology processes representation was developed through the following Italian case studies with different hydropedological inputs: (i) comparative land evaluation models, by means of an exhaustive itinerary from simple to complex modelling applications depending on soil data availability, (ii) mapping of soil hydrological behaviour for irrigation management at the district scale, where the main hydropedological input was the application of calibrated pedo-transfer functions and the Hydrological Function Unit concept, and (iii) flood event simulation in an ungauged basin, with the functional aggregation of different soil units for a simplified soil pattern.

In conclusion, we show that special care is required in handling data from soil databases if full potential is to be achieved. Further, all the case studies agree on the appropriate degree of complexity of the soil hydrological model to be applied. We also emphasise that effective interaction between pedology and hydrology to address landscape hydrology requires (i) greater awareness of the hydrological community about the type of soil information behind a soil map or a soil database, (ii) the development of a better quantitative framework by the pedological community for evaluating hydrological features, and (iii) quantitative information on soil spatial variability.