Miscellaneous methods for measuring matric or water potential

Soil Science Society of America Book Series 5.4- 3.2.4
By: , and 
Edited by: Jacob H. Dane and G. Clarke Topp

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Abstract

A variety of techniques to measure matric potential or water potential in the laboratory and in the field are described in this section. The techniques described herein require equilibration of some medium whose matric or water potential can be determined from previous calibration or can be measured directly. Under equilibrium conditions the matric or water potential of the medium is equal to that of the soil. The techniques can be divided into: (i) those that measure matric potential and (ii) those that measure water potential (sum of matric and osmotic potentials). Matric potential is determined when the sensor matrix is in direct contact with the soil, so salts are free to diffuse in or out of the sensor matrix, and the equilibrium measurement therefore reflects matric forces acting on the water. Water potential is determined when the sensor is separated from the soil by a vapor gap, so salts are not free to move in or out of the sensor, and the equilibrium measurement reflects the sum of the matric and osmotic forces acting on the water.

Seven different techniques are described in this section. Those that measure matric potential include (i) heat dissipation sensors, (ii) electrical resistance sensors, (iii) frequency domain and time domain sensors, and (iv) electro-optical switches. A method that can be used to measure matric potential or water potential is the (v) filter paper method. Techniques that measure water potential include (vi) the Dew Point Potentiameter (Decagon Devices, Inc., Pullman, WA1) (water activity meter) and (vii) vapor equilibration.

The first four techniques are electronically based methods for measuring matric potential. Heat dissipation sensors and electrical resistance sensors infer matric potential from previously determined calibration relations between sensor heat dissipation or electrical resistance and matric potential. Frequency-domain and timedomain matric potential sensors measure water content, which is related to matric potential of the sensor through calibration. Electro-optical switches measure changes in light transmission through thin, nylon filters as they absorb or desorb water in response to changes in matric potential. Heat dissipation sensors and electrical resistance sensors are used primarily in the field to provide information on matric potential. Frequency domain matric potential sensors are new and have not been widely used. Time domain matric potential sensors and electro-optical switches are new and have not been commercialized. For the fifth technique, filter paper is used as the standard matrix. The filter paper technique measures matric potential when the filter paper is in direct contact with soil or water potential when separated from soil by a vapor gap. The Dew Point Potentiameter calculates water potential from the measured dew point and sample temperature. The vapor equilibration technique involves equilibration of soil samples with salt solutions of known osmotic potential. The filter paper, Dew Point Potentiameter, and vapor equilibration techniques are generally used in the laboratory to measure water potential of disturbed field samples or to measure water potential for water retention functions.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Miscellaneous methods for measuring matric or water potential
Series title Soil Science Society of America Book Series
Series number 5.4
Chapter 3.2.4
ISBN 978-0-89118-893-3
DOI 10.2136/sssabookser5.4.c23
Year Published 2002
Language English
Publisher Soil Science Society of America
Publisher location Madison, WI
Contributing office(s) Nevada Water Science Center
Description 28 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Methods of Soil Analysis: Part 4 Physical Methods
First page 643
Last page 670