Articles | Volume 17, issue 2
Research article
11 Feb 2013
Research article |  | 11 Feb 2013

Three-dimensional monitoring of soil water content in a maize field using Electrical Resistivity Tomography

L. Beff, T. Günther, B. Vandoorne, V. Couvreur, and M. Javaux

Abstract. A good understanding of the soil water content (SWC) distribution at the field scale is essential to improve the management of water, soil and crops. Recent studies proved that Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) opens interesting perspectives in the determination of the SWC distribution in 3 dimensions (3-D). This study was conducted (i) to check and validate how ERT is able to monitor SWC distribution in a maize field during the late growing season; and (ii) to investigate how maize plants and rainfall affect the dynamics of SWC distribution. Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) measurements were used to validate ERT-inverted SWC values. Evolution of water mass balance was also calculated to check whether ERT was capable of giving a reliable estimate of soil water stock evolution. It is observed that ERT was able to give the same average SWC as TDR (R2 = 0.98). In addition, ERT gives better estimates of the water stock than TDR thanks to its higher spatial resolution. The high resolution of ERT measurements also allows for the discrimination of SWC heterogeneities. The SWC distribution showed that alternation of maize rows and inter-rows was the main influencing factor of the SWC distribution. The drying patterns were linked to the root profiles, with drier zones under the maize rows. During short periods, with negligible rainfall, the SWC decrease took place mainly in the two upper soil horizons and in the inter-row area. In contrast, rainfall increased the SWC mostly under the maize rows and in the upper soil layer. Nevertheless, the total amount of rainfall during the growing season was not sufficient to modify the SWC patterns induced by the maize rows. During the experimental time, there was hardly any SWC redistribution from maize rows to inter-rows. Yet, lateral redistribution from inter-rows to maize rows induced by potential gradient generates SWC decrease in the inter-row area and in the deeper soil horizons.