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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 2, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 2, 111–120, 1998
© Author(s) 1998. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 2, 111–120, 1998
© Author(s) 1998. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

  31 Mar 1998

31 Mar 1998

The dielectric calibration of capacitance probes for soil hydrology using an oscillation frequency response model

D. A. Robinson1,3, C. M. K. Gardner2, J. Evans3, J. D. Cooper3, M. G. Hodnett3, and J. P. Bell3 D. A. Robinson et al.
  • 1University of Ulster, Dept. Env. Studies, Coleraine, BT52 1SA, UK.
  • 2Hertford College Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3BW, UK.
  • 3The Institute of Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxon, OX10 8BB, UK.

Abstract. Capacitance probes are a fast, safe and relatively inexpensive means of measuring the relative permittivity of soils, which can then be used to estimate soil water content. Initial experiments with capacitance probes used empirical calibrations between the frequency response of the instrument and soil water content. This has the disadvantage that the calibrations are instrument-dependent. A twofold calibration strategy is described in this paper; the instrument frequency is turned into relative permittivity (dielectric constant) which can then be calibrated against soil water content. This approach offers the advantages of making the second calibration, from soil permittivity to soil water content. instrument-independent and allows comparison with other dielectric methods, such as time domain reflectometry.
A physically based model, used to calibrate capacitance probes in terms of relative permittivity (εr) is presented. The model, which was developed from circuit analysis, predicts, successfully, the frequency response of the instrument in liquids with different relative permittivities, using only measurements in air and water. lt was used successfully to calibrate 10 prototype surface capacitance insertion probes (SCIPS) and a depth capacitance probe. The findings demonstrate that the geometric properties of the instrument electrodes were an important parameter in the model, the value of which could be fixed through measurement.
The relationship between apparent soil permittivity and volumetric water content has been the subject of much research in the last 30 years. Two lines of investigation have developed, time domain reflectometry (TDR) and capacitance. Both methods claim to measure relative permittivity and should therefore be comparable. This paper demonstrates that the IH capacitance probe overestimates relative permittivity as the ionic conductivity of the medium increases. Electrically conducting ionic solutions were used to test the magnitude of this effect on the determination of relative permittivity. The response was modelled so that the relative permittivity, independent of ionic conductivity, could be determined in solutions with an electrical conductivity of up to 0.25 S m-1. It was found that a solution EC of less than 0.05 S m-1 had little impact on the permittivity measurement.

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