Evaluation of the performance of the van Genuchten equation using a large database on soil water retention of tropical soils in Brazil

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Marta Vasconcelos Ottoni1,2, Martinus Van Genuchten3, Maria Leonor Ribeiro Casimiro Lopes Assad4 and Achiles eduardo Monteiro1, (1)Geological Survey of Brazil (CPRM), Department of Hydrology, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, (2)USDA, ARS, Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Lab, Beltsville, MD, United States, (3)Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, Department of Mechanical Engineering, COPPE/LTTC, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, (4)Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Araras, Sao Paulo, Brazil
The van Genuchten equation is used often to provide an empirical description of soil water retention data. The equation is commonly used for modeling hydrologic processes for environmental and agricultural applications, including irrigation. Most applications involved soils of temperate or arid climatic regions. Soil of tropical zones often have distinct textural compositions with a predominance of clay and sand, which may lead to multimodal pore size distributions that are not conducive to applications of the standard van Genuchten equation. This study aims to evaluate the performance of the van Genuchten equation using a large database on soil water retention of tropical soils in Brazil, where almost 6 million hectares are irrigated and responsible for about 70% of water consumption in Brazil. We selected 1058 undisturbed soil samples with water retention data covering a wide matric potentials. The results show that the root-mean-squared error (RMSE) of the water retention estimates was larger than 4% for only 10 samples. For the remaining datasets, the RMSE distribution behaved as follows: 27 samples had an RMSE from 3 to 4%, 70 samples had an RMSE from 2 to 3%, 332 samples had an RMSE from 1 to 2%, and 619 samples had an RMSE from 0 to 1%. Because of the bimodal pore size distribution of many soils, a dual porosity retention model is probably more appropriate for samples having the higher RMSE values. Overall, the van Genuchten equation was found to be appropriate for Brazilian soil conditions. Work is underway to see if soil or landscape properties can be used to predict the presence of the bimodal pore-size distributions.