Errors in determination of soil water content using time domain reflectometry caused by soil compaction around waveguides

Ghezzehei, Teamrat A.

Water Resources Research, vol. 44(8) , 2008.


TDR, water content, compaction, measurement error


Application of time domain reflectometry (TDR) in soil hydrology often involves the conversion of TDR‐measured dielectric permittivity to water content using universal calibration equations (empirical or physically based). Deviations of soil‐specific calibrations from the universal calibrations have been noted and are usually attributed to peculiar composition of soil constituents, such as high content of clay and/or organic matter. Although it is recognized that soil disturbance by TDR waveguides may have impact on measurement errors, to our knowledge, there has not been any quantification of this effect. In this paper, we introduce a method that estimates this error by combining two models: one that describes soil compaction around cylindrical objects and another that translates change in bulk density to evolution of soil water retention characteristics. Our analysis indicates that the compaction pattern depends on the mechanical properties of the soil at the time of installation. The relative error in water content measurement depends on the compaction pattern as well as the water content and water retention properties of the soil. Illustrative calculations based on measured soil mechanical and hydrologic properties from the literature indicate that the measurement errors of using a standard three‐prong TDR waveguide could be up to 10%. We also show that the error scales linearly with the ratio of rod radius to the interradius spacing.