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Journal Articles Journal of Applied Geophysics Year : 2008

Study of water tension differences in heterogeneous sandy soils using surface ERT


Herbaceous vegetation in the Sahel grows almost exclusively on sandy soils which preferentially retain water through infiltration and storage. The hydrological functioning of these sandy soils during rain cycles is unknown. One way to tackle this issue is to spatialize variations in water content but these are difficult to measure in the vadose zone. We investigated the use of Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) as a technique for spatializing resistivity in a non-destructive manner in order to improve our knowledge of relevant hydrological processes. To achieve this, two approaches were examined. First, we focused on a possible link between water tension (which is much easier to measure in the field by point measurements than water content), and resistivity (spatialized with ERT). Second, because ERT is affected by solution non-uniqueness and reconstruction smoothing, we improved the accuracy of ERT inversion by comparing calculated solutions with in-situ resistivity measurements. We studied a natural microdune during a controlled field experiment with artificial sprinkling which reproduced typical rainfall cycles. We recorded temperature, water tension and resistivity within the microdune and applied surface ERT before and after the 3 rainfall cycles. Soil samples were collected after the experiment to determine soil physical characteristics. An experimental relationship between water tension and water content was also investigated. Our results showed that the raw relationship between calculated ERT resistivity and water tension measurements in sand is highly scattered because of significant spatial variations in porosity. An improved correlation was achieved by using resistivity ratio and water tension differences. The slope of the relationship depends on the soil solution conductivity, as predicted by Archie's law when salted water was used for the rain simulation. We found that determining the variations in electrical resistivity is a sensitive method for spatializing the differences in water tension which are directly linked with infiltration and evaporation/drainage processes in the vadose zone. However, three factors complicate the use of this approach. Firstly, the relation between water tension and water content is generally non-linear and dependent on the water content range. This could limit the use of our site-specific relations for spatializing water content with ERT through tension. Secondly, to achieve the necessary optimization of ERT inversion, we used destructive resistivity measurements in the soil, which renders ERT less attractive. Thirdly, we found that the calculated resistivity is not always accurate because of the smoothing involved in surface ERT data inversion. We conclude that further developments are needed into ERT image reconstruction before water tension (and water content) can be spatialized in heterogeneous sandy soils with the accuracy needed to routinely study their hydrological functioning.

Dates and versions

insu-00388669 , version 1 (27-05-2009)



Marc Descloitres, Olivier Ribolzi, Yann Le Troquer, Jean-Pierre Thiébaux. Study of water tension differences in heterogeneous sandy soils using surface ERT. Journal of Applied Geophysics, 2008, 64 (3-4), pp.83 à 98. ⟨10.1016/j.jappgeo.2007.12.007⟩. ⟨insu-00388669⟩
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