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Seasonal dynamics and spatial patterns of soil moisture in a loess catchment


Liu, Shaozhen; van Meerveld, Ilja; Zhao, Yali; Wang, Yunqiang; Kirchner, James W (2024). Seasonal dynamics and spatial patterns of soil moisture in a loess catchment. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 28(1):205-216.

Abstract

The spatial and seasonal patterns in soil moisture and the processes controlling them in semi-arid landscapes are not well understood. Loess landscapes minimize any confounding effects of variation in soil characteristics and are thus ideal for studying topographic influences on soil moisture in drylands. In this study, volumetric soil moisture was monitored monthly for 5.5 years at 20 cm intervals between the surface and 5 m depth at 89 sites across a small (0.43 km2) catchment on the Chinese Loess Plateau. The median soil moisture was computed for each month and depth for each monitoring site as a measure of the typical soil moisture conditions. Seasonal changes in soil moisture were mainly concentrated in the shallow (0–100 cm) soil, with a clear seasonal separation between wet conditions in October–March and dry conditions in May–July, even though precipitation is highest in July–August. Soil moisture was higher on the northwest-facing slopes due to increased drying from solar radiation on the southeast-facing slopes. This effect of slope aspect was greater between October and March, when the zenith angle of the sun was lower and the aspect-dependent difference in solar radiation reaching the surface was larger. The wetter, northwest-facing slopes were also characterized by larger annual soil moisture storage changes. Soil texture was nearly uniform across both slopes, and soil moisture was not correlated with the topographic wetness index, suggesting that variations in evapotranspiration dominated the spatial pattern of soil moisture in shallow soils under both wet and dry conditions. Water balance calculations indicate that over 90 % of the annual precipitation was seasonally cycled in the soil between 0 and 300 cm, suggesting that only a minor fraction infiltrates to groundwater and becomes streamflow. Our findings may be broadly applicable to loess regions with monsoonal climates and may have practical implications for catchment-scale hydrologic modeling and the design of soil moisture monitoring networks.

Abstract

The spatial and seasonal patterns in soil moisture and the processes controlling them in semi-arid landscapes are not well understood. Loess landscapes minimize any confounding effects of variation in soil characteristics and are thus ideal for studying topographic influences on soil moisture in drylands. In this study, volumetric soil moisture was monitored monthly for 5.5 years at 20 cm intervals between the surface and 5 m depth at 89 sites across a small (0.43 km2) catchment on the Chinese Loess Plateau. The median soil moisture was computed for each month and depth for each monitoring site as a measure of the typical soil moisture conditions. Seasonal changes in soil moisture were mainly concentrated in the shallow (0–100 cm) soil, with a clear seasonal separation between wet conditions in October–March and dry conditions in May–July, even though precipitation is highest in July–August. Soil moisture was higher on the northwest-facing slopes due to increased drying from solar radiation on the southeast-facing slopes. This effect of slope aspect was greater between October and March, when the zenith angle of the sun was lower and the aspect-dependent difference in solar radiation reaching the surface was larger. The wetter, northwest-facing slopes were also characterized by larger annual soil moisture storage changes. Soil texture was nearly uniform across both slopes, and soil moisture was not correlated with the topographic wetness index, suggesting that variations in evapotranspiration dominated the spatial pattern of soil moisture in shallow soils under both wet and dry conditions. Water balance calculations indicate that over 90 % of the annual precipitation was seasonally cycled in the soil between 0 and 300 cm, suggesting that only a minor fraction infiltrates to groundwater and becomes streamflow. Our findings may be broadly applicable to loess regions with monsoonal climates and may have practical implications for catchment-scale hydrologic modeling and the design of soil moisture monitoring networks.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Scopus Subject Areas:Physical Sciences > Water Science and Technology
Physical Sciences > Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Energy
Language:English
Date:12 January 2024
Deposited On:04 Apr 2024 11:01
Last Modified:30 Jun 2024 01:41
Publisher:Copernicus Publications
ISSN:1027-5606
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-28-205-2024
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)