Much of the floor of Owens Valley, California, is covered with alkaline scrub and alkaline meadow plant communities, whose existence is dependent partly on precipitation and partly on water infiltrated into the rooting zone from the shallow water table. The extent to which these plant communities are capable of adapting to and surviving fluctuations in the water table depends on physiological adaptations of the plants and on the water content, matric potential characteristics of the soils. Two methods were used to estimate soil matric potential in test sites in Owens Valley. The first, the filter-paper method, uses water content of filter papers equilibrated to water content of soil samples taken with a hand auger. The previously published calibration relations used to estimate soil matric potential from the water content of the filter papers were modified on the basis of current laboratory data.
The other method of estimating soil matric potential was a modeling approach based on data from this and previous investigations. These data indicate that the base-10 logarithm of soil matric potential is a linear function of gravimetric soil water content for a particular soil. The slope and intercepts of this function vary with the texture and saturation capacity of the soil. Estimates of soil water characteristic curves were made at two sites by averaging the gravimetric soil water content and soil matric potential values from multiple samples at 0.1-m depth intervals derived by using the hand auger and filter-paper method and entering these values in the soil water model. The characteristic curves then were used to estimate soil matric potential from estimates of volumetric soil water content derived from neutron-probe readings.
Evaluation of the modeling technique at two study sites indicated that estimates of soil matric potential within 0.5 pF units of the soil matric potential value derived by using the filter-paper method could be obtained 90 to 95 percent of the time in soils where water content was less than field capacity. The greatest errors occurred at depths where there was a distinct transition between soils of different textures.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Estimating soil matric potential in Owens Valley, California
Water Supply Paper
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