Irrigation Engineering ECE 2405

Soil and water potential
5/8/2012 Jommo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology- JKUAT

MDONDO S. [Eng]

There is need for a soil ‘wetness’ which reflects the ease or difficulty of extraction of water from the soil by the plant to be determined. These early groupings have been replaced by fundamental concept referred to as soil water potential product (American Society of Agricultural Engineers-1983). Mechanism of Soil Water Movement (Transport Mechanisms) 1. A plant will have less difficulty extracting water from a sandy soil than from a clay soil at the same moisture content. . Attempts have been made to describe the energy state of water. soil water was arbitrarily classified into diferrent forms such as gravitational water. SOIL WATER POTENTIAL A bout a centuary ago. The Concept of Soil Water Potential is therefore used in Soil/Plant/Water Relations.Page 2 of 15 SOIL WATER POTENTIAL AND MOISTURE CONTENT INTRODUCTION Soil water content alone is not a satisfactory criterion for describing the availability of water to plants. Solute molecules. dissolved in gas or liquid. The removal of soil water depends not only upon it’s a mount and energy state but also upon the plants ability to absorb water and the atmospheric demand for water from the plant. stage of growth and marketable product (American Society of Agricultural Engineers-1983). into the root. move from high to low concentration Driving force for movement is difference in concentration with distance. The amount of water that is sufficient for satisfactory plant production depends upon the crop species and variety. which feels wet. capillary water and hygroscopic water. The soil-water plant system is now treated as a continuous dynamic system where water moves through the soil to the plant root surfaces. A clay soil. can be at the same moisture content as a sandy soil. Quantity of water in a soil as determined by its moisture content does not give a true indication of the soil ‘wetness’. which on handling feels dry. through the plant and into the atmosphere along a path of continuously decreasing potential energy.

Current (movement of electrons) is caused by electrical potential differences Electrons move from high to low potential.    high boiling and melting point high heat of melting and vaporization large dielectric constant    low fluid density high specific heat good solvent . The steepness of the potential gradient from one point in the system reflects the ease with which water will flow down the potential gradient between the points. Water moves from high to low pressure or potential. Water flow is described by DARCY’s law. Current is computed from Ohm’s law 4. Driving force is difference in its pressure with distance. takes place from a state of higher to one of lower potential energy. What are the forces that determine water movement in soil?   Kinetic vs. In soils.Page 3 of 15 Transport is formulated by Fick’s law of diffusion 2. “Conservative Forces” From High Potential Energy to Low Potential Energy WATER PROPERTIES: Water is an unusual fluid and has much different physical properties than other substances with equal molecular weight. The flow of water in any hydraulic system. Heat moves from high to low temperature Driving force for heat transport is difference in temperature with distance Heat transport is formulated by Fourier’s law of heat conduction 3. including the soil-plant-water system. In addition water will move by gravitational forces. Potential Energy. water moves by pressure (or water potential) and gravitational forces.

009 mm in diameter. the stage is set for the ultimate example of hydrogen bonding. Soil minerals are also a source of oxygens to which water's hydrogens are attracted. First the soil is porous. You have probably observed water or an aqueous solution rising against gravity in a capillary tube. Hydrogen bonding is a force between H and either N. how thick is the film? .15/r (in cm) or h » 15/r (in mm) Soil and water attract for two reasons. and its weak crystalline structure. or F. is strongly attracted to O-rich solids.end on the oxygen side. perhaps you have experienced this at the doctor's office as he or she pricks your finger. Because both of the hydrogens in a water molecule bond to the same side of the oxygen. O. water molecule is polar. water is polar HOH with a + end on the hydrogen side and a . Surface films of water are always present in soil. Because water is only H's and O's. each H is covalently bonded to an oxygen. The difference in water content between any two soils hinges on the question. Molecular structure of water (H2O): H2O molecule has no net charge (neutral). This is actually a minor consideration because natural drainage of water through a soil is strong enough to drain pores that are larger than 0.Page 4 of 15 Specific heat: The amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram (1gm) of material one degree centigrade (0C). In a pool of water. therefore. Adhesion and cohesion are best observed in the phenomenon of capillarity. This phenomenon is called cohesion (the attraction of water to water). but retains a strong attraction (Hydrogen bond) for the nearest adjacent oxygen. Salts readily dissolve in this medium. This attraction of water to other materials is called adhesion. water rises until weight of column equals the attractive force between the water and the glass. Hydrogen bonding accounts for water's behavior. Consequently. The more important attraction is between water and solid surfaces. and then collects a sample of blood in a small glass tube. In other words. In capillarity. each water is attracted to other waters. with the center of negative charge not coinciding with center of positive charge. h » . acting as attraction forces between water molecules. These three elements are the most electronegative. Water. Hydrogen bonding explains the physical properties of water. For pure water the height of rise is approximately the following function of tube radius:. H-atoms of water molecules are hydrogen bonded with O atoms of surrounding molecules. and the pores behave much like capillaries. but charge distribution is asymmetrical.

Pressure potential is also easy to visualize. as opposed to engineering. Water potential is expressed in energy units. The symbol used to depict gravitational potential is yg. typical units might be Joule/kg. dropping to the table? Of course not. but the question is. as the height of a water column. soil water has a negative potential. The symbol used to depict pressure potential is yp. such as liquid flow through soil pores. then dropping a drop of water onto the clump of dry soil. In science. water potential is the preferred term. or what we often call matric forces. Negative potential means work must be done to bring water up to the zero state. means a negative pressure. Ponded or flooded sites are pressurized for example. This one is easy to visualize because we have lots of experience with gravity. However. and bars. and the value can be + or — . will the water leap out of it. Water will move from a high pressure environment to a low pressure environment. Hydraulic head is the unit used by engineers. for example. This other component is called solute potential. The laws of thermodynamics tell us that spontaneous changes result in reduced potential energy states. another component is important. we often use energy per volume. A positive tension. Water will not freely leave soil unless soil is very wet. but is more difficult to visualize. kilopascals. These values are negative or zero. Imagine placing a clump of dry soil on a table.Page 5 of 15 The tendency of water to move or react or do work is determined by potential. something we are familiar with. in certain circumstances. The tendency for water to undergo phase changes or to pass through membranes is controlled by the presence of solutes in the . The pressure component in soil is either positive or zero. because this water is not free to move to the zero state. A pump. Head units are in length. Usually. to predict hydraulic flow. might deliver 90 feet of hydraulic head. Matric potential is the most important component in soil. Any given parcel of water has a particular potential energy. Suction or tension are terms used to refer to negative pressure. The first component is gravitational. This is convenient because energy per volume equals pressure. Potential is the work water can do relative to water at zero state. held my adhesion. energy per what? If we express potential as energy per mass. Because it is more convenient. If you elevate the soil off of the table. Many other units are used to describe water potential. This is because of adhesion and cohesion. but never positive. Typical pressure units in use are pascals. The zero state is pure water that is unattached to any surface and exists at the reference elevation in a gravitational field. Often these three components are sufficient. These terms are used to avoid negative numbers. megapascals. one need consider no other component. It will stay in the soil. The symbol for matric potential is ym. For instance. Water potential is the sum of four components.

Matric potential is the component of greatest concern. but usually. The symbol for solute potential is ys. A normal soil may have ym = -5 bars. Solute potential is also called osmotic potential. pressure and gravity are most important. total potential (yT) » matric potential (ym). requires transport through membranes. This is important in soil for two reasons: (1) evaporation of soil water is an important phase change.Page 6 of 15 water. (2) water flow from soil into cells of organisms.water attracted to other water molecules  .Water attracted to mineral surfaces or Adsorptive forces . a force equal to the weight of 50 meters of water would be required to remove water from a soil in which it was held with a matric potential of -5 bars. This magnitude of matric potential usually eclipses the small effect of the other components. In wetlands. It actually ranges from nearly 0 to about -20 bars. The matric potential of a soil refers to the potential of the most easily removed molecule. In other words. 5 bars of pressure is about equal to the pressure of 50 meters of water. Soil Water  Adhesion . or approximately zero for very pure water. because the process of passing selectively through a semipermeable membrane is called osmosis. As with matric potential. For prospective. it can be negative for impure water.(adhesion of water to solid soil surfaces) Capillary or Cohesion water . solute potential is never positive. including plant roots.

Page 7 of 15 WATER CONTENT VS WATER POTENTIAL A) WATER CONTENT – amount of water in soil – calculated by mass or volume (g/g or cm3/ cm3) B) WATER POTENTIAL – energy of water in soil – measured in energy/mass soil – units are J/kg or kPa (these are equivalent) – tells you which direction water will move and how easy or difficult it will be for it to do so. The type of soil is important. Gravimetric Method (mass water content): This is equal to: – produces a percent content – tells you how much water is present Pm   Mw Mass of Water  M s Mass of Dry Solids Units .g/g or Kg/Kg Pm= (mass of water/mass of dry soil) x 100%  Example: 40g of water in 75g of dry soil Pm= (40/75) x100% =53% (iii) Volumetric water content. Assessment by feel is good for experienced people who have sort of calibrated their hands. Methods of Measuring Soil Water Content i) ii) By Feel: This is by far the easiest method. This is equal to: . Pv.

i. some of which are slowed down when they collide with water molecules (due to hydrogen molecules). A box (rate meter or rate scalar) is at the top. (iv) Neutron Probe: It consists of a probe lowered down a hole in the soil. The source emits fast neutrons.e. and drying it in the oven to remove all the water to obtain Ms.e Dw Mw Pv  and Pv  x D sin ce Dw 1 b Ms Ms D b Pv  Pm x D where D is the bulk density of the soil b b   Units: cm3/cm3 Example: Mw 0. The major method of measuring bulk density in the field is to collect a known volume of undisturbed soil (V) in a soil core.3m3 of water in 1m3 of soil Pv =(0. . A cloud of slow neutrons (thermal neutrons) build up near the probe and are registered by the rate meter or rate scalar which measures the number of slowed down neutrons. Close to the source is a detector. This includes both solids and pores.3/1. Within the probe is a radioactive source e. Ms is the mass of dry soil and V is the total volume of undisturbed soil.Page 8 of 15 Vw Volume of Water Pv   Vs Va Vw Total Volume of Undisturbed Soil Sample Recall that volume = mass/density i. beryllium (435 years life span). bulk density = Ms/V .g.0)x100% =30% water Soil Bulk Density. Db is defined as the mass of a unit volume of dry soil.

Page 9 of 15 Fig. WATER POTENTIAL. Diagram and Photograph of Neutron Probe in Use The method is quick but very expensive. Definitions: 1. Soil water potential »The work required to move an incremental volume of water from some reference state to the soil water (reference state defined as having zero potential. It is also dangerous since it is radioactive and must be used with care. or 2. Soil water potential can be expressed in three different units: Z . Total soil water potential is defined as the amount of work per unit quantity of pure water that must be done by external forces to transfer reversibly and isothermally an infinitesimal amount of water from the standard state to the soil at the point under consideration. temperature and air pressure). or 3. is pure water with flat air-water interface at some specified elevation. Soil water potential » amount of work that must be done per unit quantity in order to transport from a pool of pure water to the soil solution. REMEMBER: Potential = Force x Distance = mgh =ρwVgh (Nm).

solute (osmotic) and air pressure potentials.(1) Where: Zp. Pressure Potential: This is positive when greater than atmospheric pressure. Osmotic. respectively. Air Pressure) Total potential. etc. the total potential (or total hydraulic head) in the soil-water system is made up of a number of distinguishable components. Zz . or suction) is also known as the matric . Some of these are as follows: Gravitational Potential: Reflects gravitational forces on the soil water.. A negative pressure potential (or tension.Page 10 of 15 Potential per unit mass (µ): Potential per unit Volume (φ): Potential per unit Weight (h): µ =potential /mass=gh(Nm/Kg) φ =potential /Volume= ρwVgh/V= ρwh(N/m2 water pressure units) h =potential /Weight=mgh/mg=h(m head unit).φg  Only matters in soil science once a soil is saturated Matric potential φm  The water potential of soil science Osmotic potential φo  only matters in soil science when the soil is salty As in any other hydraulic system. = equivalent height of water Total Soil Water Potential Zt Sum of Individual Potentials: Gravitational.Zs and Za are pressure(matric). and negative when below atmospheric.g.(e.. Hydrostatic. Gravitational potential . ZT = matric potential + osmotic potential + gravitational potential + .. Matric. Overburden.. gravitational. ZT =Zp+ Zz +Zs+ Za 2 (N/m )…………………………………………………….

g. water in a pool Serves a your reference level THE RELEVANT FORCES      Adhesion and Cohesion » Matric Force Attraction Between Water and Ions » Osmotic Force Gravity» Gravitational Force Hydrostatic and Overburden Forces Atmospheric Air Force Note: Pressure is equal to Force/Area so we often refer to these forces as pressures. e. HOW TO MEASURE PRESSURE POTENTIAL IN SOIL . which are acting. Osmotic Potential: reflects the effect of solutes in soil water. It is characteristic of soil water above a free water surface. so kinetic energy is neglected.Page 11 of 15 potential. in the presence of a semi-permeable membrane. The total potential of soil water at a point is the sum of all the components of potential. Note that the movement of water in the soil is slow.g water down in soil being taken up by plant roots  zero water potential is free water e.g water coming down over a falls or rapids  -ve water potential tells you how much energy will have to be exerted to move the water. WATER POTENTIAL    φ Measures the energy of water Units J/kg or kPa(these are equivalent) +ve water potential tells you how much energy will be released when the water moves e.

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Soil water properties are among the commonly monitored environmental characteristics. weighing it. These can be calibrated to measure either content or potential. Water content can be measured in various ways. Gravimetric.Page 13 of 15  SOIL WATER MEASUREMENT Environmental monitoring has become an integral component of land management. 1. and protecting groundwater. drying it. Specific reasons for monitoring soil water properties include optimizing benefits from irrigation. This involves collecting a sample. Porous resistance blocks. With these weights one can calculate qm. Their performance is only acceptable in relatively dry soil where the q . WATER CONTENT.y relation is more or less . A few of the standard methods are briefly outlined below. This section discusses methods for monitoring soil water. and then reweighing it.

This is a lab apparatus used to determine water content for a wide range of matric potentials with reasonable accuracy. These provide high accuracy and non-destructive testing. Measuring total water potential by psychrometer is possible because of the following physical chemistry relation: where R. their use is declining. . temperature. and volume. a few of which are described below. can measure water potential. These are access tubes inserted in the soil. As mentioned previously resistance blocks can be used to monitor water potential. and RH is relative humidity. Various instruments. This is an instrument for field use. They only work on the wet end of the water release curve. yet provide rather poor precision. Piezometer. some minor methods in use include: -frequency domain reflectometry -capacitance probes Lysimeters are often used for "balance-sheet" studies in which one monitors water in and water out of a system. and only measure matric potential. however. They are useful for measuring pressure potential due to a water table. Because of the health risk and legal reporting requirements. Pressure plate. by measuring water content surrounding an access tube installed in the soil. The tubes typically have a porous cup on the lower end to allow water in. Tensiometer. Tests are slow and laborious. but are not particularly accurate. precision improves drastically as soil wetness decreases. This relatively new method requires expensive instrumentation. T. 2. These provide the most scientifically rigorous readings. Neutron probes. These are commonly used in irrigation applications. These are easy to use once calibrated. Psychrometer.WATER POTENTIAL.Page 14 of 15 linear (see Figure 4-9 in the textbook). Also. and V are the ideal gas law constant. but provides good accuracy. Time domain reflectometry.

Filter paper can be exposed to soil to measure the tendency for the paper to attract water from the soil.Page 15 of 15 Filter paper. This is a low-tech method with accuracy similar to that of resistance blocks. .

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