Are spatial patterns of soil moisture at plot scales generalisable across catchments, climates, and other characteristics? A synthesis of synoptic soil moisture across the Mid-Atlantic

Charles I. Scaife, Jonathan M. Duncan, Laurence Lin, Christina Tague, Colin D. Bell, Lawrence Band

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The spatial variation of soil moisture over very small areas (<100 m2) can have nonlinear impacts on cycling and flux rates resulting in bias if it is not considered, but measuring this variation is difficult over extensive temporal and spatial scales. Most studies examining spatial variation of soil moisture were conducted at hillslope (0.01 km2) to multi-catchment spatial scales (1000 km2). They found the greatest variation at mid wetness levels and the smallest variation at wet and dry wetness levels forming a concave down relationship. There is growing evidence that concave down relationships formed between spatial variation of soil moisture and average soil moisture are consistent across spatial scales spanning several orders of magnitude, but more research is needed at very small, plot scales (<100 m2). The goal of this study was to characterise spatial variation in shallow soil moisture at the plot scale by relating the mean of measurements collected in a plot to the standard deviation (SD). We combined data from a previous study with thousands of new soil moisture measurements from 212 plots in eight catchments distributed across the US Mid-Atlantic Region to (1) test for a generalisable mean–SD relationship at plot scales, (2) characterise how landcover, land use, season, and hillslope position contribute to differences in mean–SD relationships, and (3) use these generalised mean–SD relationships to quantify their impacts on catchment scale nitrification and denitrification potential. Our study found that 98% of all measurements formed a generalised mean–SD relationship like those observed at hillslope and catchment spatial scales. The remaining 2% of data comprised a mean–SD relationship with greater spatial variation that originated from two riparian plots reported in a previous study. Incorporating the generalised mean–SD relationship into estimates of nitrification and denitrification potential revealed strong bias that was even greater when incorporating mean–SD observations from the two riparian plots with significantly greater spatial variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14313
JournalHydrological Processes
Volume35
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology

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