Improvements to measuring water flux in the vadose zone

J Environ Qual. 2004 May-Jun;33(3):1152-8. doi: 10.2134/jeq2004.1152.


Evaluating the impact of land use practices on ground water quality has been difficult because few techniques are capable of monitoring the quality and quantity of soil water flow below the root zone without disturbing the soil profile and affecting natural flow processes. A recently introduced method, known as equilibrium tension lysimetry, was a major improvement but it was not a true equilibrium since it still required manual intervention to maintain proper lysimeter suction. We addressed this issue by developing an automated equilibrium tension lysimeter (AETL) system that continuously matches lysimeter tension to soil-water matric potential of the surrounding soil. The soil-water matric potential of the bulk soil is measured with a heat-dissipation sensor, and a small DC pump is used to apply suction to a lysimeter. The improved automated approach reported here was tested in the field for a 12-mo period. Powered by a small 12-V rechargeable battery, the AETLs were able to continuously match lysimeter suction to soil-water matric potential for 2-wk periods with minimal human attention, along with the added benefit of collecting continuous soil-water matric potential data. We also demonstrated, in the laboratory, methods for continuous measurement of water depth in the AETL, a capability that quantifies drainage on a 10-min interval, making it a true water-flux meter. Equilibrium tension lysimeters have already been demonstrated to be a reliable method of measuring drainage flux, and the further improvements have created a more effective device for studying water drainage and chemical leaching through the soil matrix.

MeSH terms

  • Automation
  • Electric Power Supplies
  • Environmental Monitoring / instrumentation
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Equipment Design
  • Soil
  • Water / analysis*
  • Water Movements*


  • Soil
  • Water