Articles | Volume 21, issue 4
Research article
03 Apr 2017
Research article |  | 03 Apr 2017

Cosmic-ray neutron transport at a forest field site: the sensitivity to various environmental conditions with focus on biomass and canopy interception

Mie Andreasen, Karsten H. Jensen, Darin Desilets, Marek Zreda, Heye R. Bogena, and Majken C. Looms

Abstract. Cosmic-ray neutron intensity is inversely correlated to all hydrogen present in the upper decimeters of the subsurface and the first few hectometers of the atmosphere above the ground surface. This correlation forms the base of the cosmic-ray neutron soil moisture estimation method. The method is, however, complicated by the fact that several hydrogen pools other than soil moisture affect the neutron intensity. In order to improve the cosmic-ray neutron soil moisture estimation method and explore the potential for additional applications, knowledge about the environmental effect on cosmic-ray neutron intensity is essential (e.g., the effect of vegetation, litter layer and soil type). In this study the environmental effect is examined by performing a sensitivity analysis using neutron transport modeling. We use a neutron transport model with various representations of the forest and different parameters describing the subsurface to match measured height profiles and time series of thermal and epithermal neutron intensities at a field site in Denmark. Overall, modeled thermal and epithermal neutron intensities are in satisfactory agreement with measurements; however, the choice of forest canopy conceptualization is found to be significant. Modeling results show that the effect of canopy interception, soil chemistry and dry bulk density of litter and mineral soil on neutron intensity is small. On the other hand, the neutron intensity decreases significantly with added litter-layer thickness, especially for epithermal neutron energies. Forest biomass also has a significant influence on the neutron intensity height profiles at the examined field site, altering both the shape of the profiles and the ground-level thermal-to-epithermal neutron ratio. This ratio increases with increasing amounts of biomass, and was confirmed by measurements from three sites representing agricultural, heathland and forest land cover. A much smaller effect of canopy interception on the ground-level thermal-to-epithermal neutron ratio was modeled. Overall, the results suggest a potential to use ground-level thermal-to-epithermal neutron ratios to discriminate the effect of different hydrogen contributions on the neutron signal.

Short summary
The cosmic-ray method holds a potential for quantifying canopy interception and biomass. We use measurements and modeling of thermal and epithermal neutron intensity in a forest to examine this potential. Canopy interception is a variable important to forest hydrology, yet difficult to monitor remotely. Forest growth impacts the carbon-cycle and can be used to mitigate climate changes by carbon sequestration in biomass. An efficient method to monitor tree growth is therefore of high relevance.