New Ways to Continuous Measurements of Soil Moisture in a Hyper-arid Dune Sand Environment

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Tino Rödiger1, Franz Königer2, Frank Bonitz3 and Christian Siebert1, (1)Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ Halle, Halle, Germany, (2)Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Functional Interfaces, Karlsruhe, Germany, (3)MFPA at Bauhaus University Weimar, Weimar, Germany
Particularly in arid regions, a profound knowledge about infiltration rates eventually leading to groundwater recharge is the major parameter for any resources management. Unfortunately, in arid areas, the rate of infiltration is one of the most difficult values to derive with sufficient accuracy.

In 2010 a 3D monitoring site was developed within a sand-dune belt SW of Riyadh (KSA). At the site, one 45°-sloped and 6 vertical drillings were deepened down to max. 13 m below ground and each is equipped with (i) continuous TDR sensors: Taupe- (sloped drilling) and tube- (vertical drilling) sensors as well as (ii) discrete temperature sensors to allow continuous moisture and temperature monitoring within the upper 13 m. The combination of the chosen sensors and the application of direct push by using a Geoprobe 7730DT guaranteed two major advantages: minimal invasiveness and continuous measurements of the relative dielectric permittivity along the borehole walls. Topp equation (Topp et al. 1980) was used to convert the raw signals from sensor into volumetric water content. To calibrate TDR data, the actual soil-moisture contents in the upper 8 m of the dune were derived from drilling core samples.

Within the dune, the moisture fluctuates between 0‑10.3 vol.-% and quickly reacts on seasonal climatic impacts in the uppermost 2 m, while moisture below persists at around 1.5 vol.‑%.

Only precipitation events with exceeding 6 mm/d induce increasing moisture in the uppermost 1.5 m of minimum 1.5 vol.-%. That indicates a threshold for effective precipitation of 6 mm/d below of which no remarkable infiltration occurs.

During the observation, we derived from the observed precipitation events and the depth of the resulting infiltration fronts, that the infiltration process is driven by the amount of a singular precipitation event. As a consequence, recharge estimations for the so-called sand seas based on annual or monthly precipitation data are not applicable for the region.