The objective of this research was to assess the effect of soil cracks on soil moisture distribution under various sprinkler irrigation applications and to identify the optimal irrigation strategy that enhances soil moisture distribution and reduces water drainage for the upper soil layer 0–250 mm. The assessment was made for six irrigation events: the first two were for 10 and 46 mm water applications using a hand shift-set sprinkler system. The second set was for 43 and 19 mm water applications using the lateral move system with fixed sprayer heads and the third pair of events were for 43 and 32 mm water applications using the lateral move system with rotating sprinklers. The experiments were conducted on two adjacent fields at the University of Queensland, Gatton, Australia. Each field was divided into 2 m × 2 m grids that covered 62 sampling locations. For each event, the initial soil moisture content (SMC) was measured at each sampling location before irrigation. After irrigation, catch can readings were recorded for each sampling location. After 12 h overnight, the second set of soil moisture measurements was taken at each location. The area1 distribution of SMC for the studied applications was quantified. An attempt was made to identify the relationship between the applied water uniformity using catch cans and the soil moisture uniformity using gravimetric water content measurements. The study also took into consideration variables that could affect the soil physical and hydrological properties including the field slope, the soil texture, the infiltration rate, the salt content and the soil organic matter content of the two fields. Since the soils were cracking clay Vertisols, further analyses were conducted on the crack dynamics, size and distribution using image analysis techniques. The research findings demonstrated that the cracks were the main contributors to water drainage below 250 mm soil depth due to the micro-run off from the crust surface to the cracks. The cracks ranged from a few millimeters to more than 40 mm in width. It was observed that the cracks which were wider than 15 mm remained open after irrigation for the specified application rates. Improving the irrigation system application uniformity did not always result in higher uniformity of the surface SMC (0–250 mm). The event that best enhanced soil moisture distribution and thus improved soil moisture recharging was observed after the sixth irrigation event when the field received 32 mm water application. The soil was at a relatively high initial SMC of 25%, (which represented 43.3% of the plant available water range) and the sprinkler water uniformity was rather high above 87% Christiansen coefficient of uniformity (CUc). At this SMC, the extent of soil cracking is limited.
Precision Agriculture – Springer Journals
Published: Dec 25, 2008
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