Measuring dynamic changes of soil porosity during compaction

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Soil porosity and pore-size distribution changes in response to compaction are important for heat, water, and air flow in soils. In this study, we used the thermo-time domain reflectometry (thermo-TDR) technique to investigate dynamics of in-situ soil porosity and pore-size distribution as affected by number of traffic passes, water content and soil depth. The study was conducted at a field site located near Clayton, NC, USA. A roller was dragged across the length of a 3- by 12-m plot three to five times to repeatedly compact the soil after tillage. Nine thermo-TDR probes, installed at 2.5-, 7.5-, and 12.5-cm depths (representing 0–5, 5–10, and 10–15 cm depth intervals, respectively) at three locations within the plot, were used to determine dynamic changes in soil porosity after each compaction event. Pore-size distribution changes within the top soil layer were determined for a subset of conditions by measuring in-situ infiltration at low tension using a mini disk infiltrometer. Nine core samples were also collected (considered to be a destructive method) near each thermo-TDR probe for measuring total porosity and water content after each compaction. Results showed that the thermo-TDR technique can accurately monitor the change of soil porosity during soil compaction compared to the destructive core method. Variability of replicated soil porosity measurements by the thermo-TDR technique (with a root mean square error (RMSE) of 0.011 m3 m−3 and mean standard error (MSE) of 0.010 m3 m−3) was lower than that of the core method (RMSE = 0.017 m3 m−3, MSE = 0.019 m3 m−3). As expected, total soil porosity decreased with the number of passes; a major portion of compaction (59–89% of the total porosity decrease) occurred during the first pass. The trend of topsoil (0–5 cm) compaction differed from that of subsoil layers (5–10 and 10–15 cm). Changes in porosity were highly sensitive to soil water content. For the sandy-textured soil in this study, soil porosity decreased as water content increased (during compaction period), and the maximum compaction (associated with the lowest porosity) was reached at an initial water content range between 0.08 and 0.10 g g-1. Above this range, the compaction level decreased with increasing water content. In addition, there was a shift in pore-size distribution for the surface layer. More importantly, pore-size distribution continued to change with additional traffic passes even after soil total porosity became stable.




Fu, Y., Tian, Z., Amoozegar, A., & Heitman, J. (2019). Measuring dynamic changes of soil porosity during compaction. Soil and Tillage Research, 193, 114–121.

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