Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Freeze-thaw effects on pore space and hydraulic properties of compacted soil and potential consequences with climate change

Kloffel, Tobias; Larsbo, Mats; Jarvis, Nicholas; Barron, Jennie

Abstract

Freezing and thawing affect the pore -space structure in agricultural soils with implications for soil hydraulic properties and water flow. Previous studies have focused on the upper few centimeters of the tilled topsoil, where most freeze -thaw (FT) cycles occur, even though deeper soil layers are also subject to freezing and thawing in cold climates. Thus, little is known about how freezing and thawing affect untilled soil layers, which often show high bulk densities that restrict vertical water movement. Furthermore, it remains unclear how shifts in FT patterns with climate change may change the pore -space structure and water flow through these soil layers. Here we investigated the effects of freezing and thawing on X-ray imaged pore -space characteristics, water retention and near -saturated hydraulic conductivity (K) in untilled soil directly below plough depth. Intact cores were sampled at two sites in central Sweden under the same long-term reduced tillage management. The two soils, a silt loam and a silty clay loam, were subjected to three FT scenarios in a laboratory environment intended to represent FT patterns that are considered likely under current and future winter conditions for this region. The latter scenario was characterised by more FT cycles and a lower freezing temperature. Freezing and thawing increased K in the near -saturated range in both soils, which we attribute to observed small (<0.01 mm(3 )mm( -3)) increases in the volume of pores of diameters close to the X-ray resolution limit. Concomitant increases in pore network connectivity and critical pore diameter, especially in the denser silty clay loam soil, probably contributed to this increase in K. The water retention data suggested that changes in pore -space characteristics below X-ray resolution also occurred in both soils. Furthermore, our results indicate that both soils may show higher drainage rates due to shifts in FT patterns in the future, although longer -term changes in pore -space structure with an increasing number of FT cycles would mostly be limited to soils with relatively high clay contents. These soils are often more compacted below plough depth and, thus, benefits from improvements in soil structure such as improved root growth and plant water supply are also expected to be larger.

Keywords

Temperate -boreal zone; Water retention curve; Hydraulic conductivity; Climate change; Sweden; Ultuna

Published in

Soil and Tillage Research
2024, Volume: 239, article number: 106041Publisher: ELSEVIER