Articles | Volume 2, issue 2
Original research article
20 Jun 2016
Original research article |  | 20 Jun 2016

Nonstationarity of the electrical resistivity and soil moisture relationship in a heterogeneous soil system: a case study

Didier Michot, Zahra Thomas, and Issifou Adam

Abstract. Understanding the role of vegetation in the interface between the atmosphere and groundwater is the most decisive key in analyzing the processes involved in water transfer. The main effect of vegetation is its root water uptake, which significantly modifies the processes involved in water transfer in the vadose zone. This paper focuses on mapping temporal and spatial changes in soil moisture using electrical resistivity tomography (ERT). The main objective is to assess how electrical resistivity (ER) is useful for mapping water distribution along a heterogeneous toposequence crossed by a hedgerow. Ten ERT were performed over the studied period for a 28 m long toposequence and compared to matric potential and groundwater level measurements. Soil volumetric water content (VWC) was predicted with two methods: (i) from ER using the Waxman and Smits model (ii) and from matric potential using an experimental retention curve fitted by a Van Genuchten model. Probability density functions (PDFs) of our set of data show that the largest change in mean ER and matric potential was observed in the topsoil layer. We then analyzed the consistency between ER and point measurements in this layer by extracting the arrays at the junction of ER grids and point measurements. PDFs of ER maps at each monitoring time (from T01 to T10) were also calculated to select the most contrasting distributions, corresponding to the wettest (T06) and driest states (T10). Results of ER were consistent with matric-potential measurements, with two different behaviors for locations inside and outside the root zone. A consistent correlation between VWC values from the Waxman and Smits model and those obtained from the retention curve was observed outside the root zone. The heterogeneous soil system inside the root zone shows a different pattern in this relationship. A shift in the relationship between ER and soil moisture for the locations outside and inside the root zone highlights the nonstationarity between wet and dry periods inside the root zone. The equivocal behavior of this relationship shows the limitation of using ER to predict soil moisture in a heterogeneous soil system. Such systems were actually related to the high hedgerow root density and also to a particular topographical context (ditch and bank) that is encountered in Brittany and throughout northwestern Europe.

Short summary
This study focuses on temporal and spatial soil moisture changes along a toposequence crossed by a hedgerow, using ERT and occasional measurements. We found that the relationship between ER and soil moisture had two behaviors depending on soil heterogeneities. ER values were consistent with occasional measurements outside the root zone. The shift in this relationship was controlled by root system density and a particular topographical context in the proximity of the hedgerow.