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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Impacts of soil management and climate on saturated and near-saturated hydraulic conductivity: analyses of the Open Tension-disk Infiltrometer Meta-database (OTIM)

Blanchy, Guillaume; Albrecht, Lukas; Bragato, Gilberto; Garre, Sarah; Jarvis, Nicholas; Koestel, John


Saturated and near-saturated soil hydraulic conductivities K-h (mmh(-1)) determine the partitioning of precipitation into surface runoff and infiltration and are fundamental to soils' susceptibility to preferential flow. Recent studies found indications that climate factors influence K-h, which is highly relevant in the face of climate change. In this study, we investigated relationships between pedoclimatic factors and K-h and also evaluated effects of land use and soil management. To this end, we collated the Open Tension-disk Infiltrometer Meta-database (OTIM), which contains 1297 individual data entries from 172 different publication sources. We analysed a spectrum of saturated and near-saturated hydraulic conductivities at matric potentials between 0 and 100 mm. We found that methodological details like the direction of the wetting sequence or the choice of method for calculating infiltration rates to hydraulic conductivities had a large impact on the results. We therefore restricted ourselves to a subset of 466 of the 1297 data entries with similar methodological approaches. Correlations between K-s and K-h at higher supply tensions decreased especially close to saturation, indicating a different flow mechanism at and very close to saturation than towards the dry end of the investigated tension range. Climate factors were better correlated with topsoil near-saturated hydraulic conductivities at supply tensions >= 30mm than soil texture, bulk density and organic carbon content. We find it most likely that the climate variables are proxies for soil macropore networks created by the respective biological activity, pedogenesis and climate-specific land use and management choices. Due to incomplete documentation in the source publications of OTIM, we were able to investigate only a few land use types and agricultural management practices. Land use, tillage system and soil compaction significantly influenced K-h, with effect sizes appearing comparable to the ones of soil texture and soil organic carbon. The data in OTIM show that experimental bias is present, introduced by the choice of measurement time relative to soil tillage, experimental design or data evaluation procedures. The establishment of best-practice rules for tension-disk infiltrometer measurements would therefore be helpful. Future studies are needed to investigate how climate shapes soil macropore networks and how land use and management can be adapted to improve soil hydraulic properties. Both tasks require large numbers of new measurement data with improved documentation on soil biology and land use and management history.

Published in

Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
2023, Volume: 27, number: 14, pages: 2703-2724