The impact of rainfall on soil moisture dynamics in a foggy desert

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Abstract

Soil moisture is a key variable in dryland ecosystems since it determines the occurrence and duration of vegetation water stress and affects the development of weather patterns including rainfall. However, the lack of ground observations of soil moisture and rainfall dynamics in many drylands has long been a major obstacle in understanding ecohydrological processes in these ecosystems. It is also uncertain to what extent rainfall controls soil moisture dynamics in fog dominated dryland systems. To this end, in this study, twelve to nineteen months' continuous daily records of rainfall and soil moisture (from January 2014 to August 2015) obtained from three sites (one sand dune site and two gravel plain sites) in the Namib Desert are reported. A process-based model simulating the stochastic soil moisture dynamics in water-limited systems was used to study the relationships between soil moisture and rainfall dynamics. Model sensitivity in response to different soil and vegetation parameters under diverse soil textures was also investigated. Our field observations showed that surface soil moisture dynamics generally follow rainfall patterns at the two gravel plain sites, whereas soil moisture dynamics in the sand dune site did not show a significant relationship with rainfall pattern. The modeling results suggested that most of the soil moisture dynamics can be simulated except the daily fluctuations, which may require a modification of the model structure to include non-rainfall components. Sensitivity analyses suggested that soil hygroscopic point (s h ) and field capacity (s fc ) were two main parameters controlling soil moisture output, though permanent wilting point (s w ) was also very sensitive under the parameter setting of sand dune (Gobabeb) and gravel plain (Kleinberg). Overall, the modeling results were not sensitive to the parameters in non-bounded group (e.g., soil hydraulic conductivity (Ks) and soil porosity (n)). Field observations, stochastic modeling results as well as sensitivity analyses provide soil moisture baseline information for future monitoring and the prediction of soil moisture patterns in the Namib Desert.

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Li, B., Wang, L., Kaseke, K. F., Li, L., & Seely, M. K. (2016). The impact of rainfall on soil moisture dynamics in a foggy desert. PLoS ONE, 11(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0164982

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