Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Plants, Soils, and Climate

Committee Chair(s)

Scott Jones


Scott Jones


Larry Hipps


Astrid Jacobson


Better management of water resources is a growing concern with increasing stress on natural resources. Despite technological improvements in the past decades, a method to instantaneously measure soil water flux remains elusive, especially at a resolution adequate for monitoring natural processes (i.e. 1 mm d-1). The objectives of this research were to evaluate and improve two emerging methods for water flux estimates, 1) streaming potential and 2) heat pulse measurements, as tools to perform at these low flux rates. Streaming potential measures a voltage between two electrodes resulting from water with charged particles generating a current as it flows between the charged surfaces of the soil. Heat pulse measurements, performed with a penta-needle heat pulse probe (PHPP), measure the transport rate and direction of a heat pulse as it propagates from a central needle to surrounding thermistors through soil. Water moving past this sensor carries heat and this allows estimation of water flux from measured heat flux. Streaming potential experimentation demonstrated a clear voltage response to low flow rates. Unfortunately, inconsistent results coupled with measurement complications – susceptibility to electromagnetic noise, drifting, etc. – led to difficulties when trying to establish a congruent relationship between flow rate and voltage behavior. We concluded that the necessary steps to potentially improve measurement consistency made streaming potential less desirable to pursue compared to other emerging tools for water flux measurements. Heat pulse work focused on modifying design parameters to improve low flux rate determination. We tested the effect of increasing heater needle diameter (from 2 mm to 5 mm), increasing heating time (from 8 to 24 and 40 seconds), and doubling heat input (from 120 W m-1 to 240 W m-1) in saturated sand. Results indicated that using larger heater needles and higher heat input improve flux estimation but increasing heating time resulted in marginal improvement. By using a PHPP with a 5 mm heater needle, 24 second heating time, and 240 W m-1 heating input, fluxes were resolved down to 1 cm d-1. Refinement of calibration procedures and inconsistencies between probes used must be resolved if measurement resolution is to be improved further.



Included in

Soil Science Commons