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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract -

An in-situ Dewpoint Hygrometer for Soil Water Potential Measurement1


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 43 No. 4, p. 641-645
    Received: Oct 27, 1977
    Accepted: Mar 9, 1979

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  1. K. J. McAneney,
  2. C. B. Tanner and
  3. W. R. Gardner2



An in situ device for determining the soil water potential by measuring the dewpoint temperature depression is described. A saturated ceramic plug is used to provide hydraulic contact between the soil and an air-tight measuring chamber housing a four-terminal thermojunction. The ceramic and the thermojunction references are thermally clamped to the copper body of the instrument in order that temperature differences between the vapor source (the internal evaporating surface of the ceramic) and the reference junctions are minimal. Thus, the device reduces the major source of error that plague conventional soil psychrometers in the presence of temperature gradients. A hygrometer placed perpendicular to an imposed thermal gradient in a soil column recorded a maximum zero offset voltage of 0.22 µV as compared with 130 µV from a Wescor psychrometer under the same conditions.

Provided the ceramic remains saturated, the response of the hygrometer to changes in soil water matric potential is extremely rapid. Two bean plants (Phaseolus vulgaris L., c.v. “Tender-green”) growing in a 2-liter container of silt loam soil were subjected to wetting and drying cycles in the laboratory. Simultaneous measurements of leaf and soil water potential illustrate the capacity of the soil hygrometers to track changes in soil water matric potential.

In the presence of solutes, the instrument is diffusion limited. The time constant for salt equilibration, with our geometry and using KCl as the solute was 23 hours. This is consistent with a diffusion coefficient of 2 to 3 × 10−6 cm3 sec−1. For this reason the application of this design should be restricted to circumstances where the osmotic contribution to the total water potential is either small or not changing rapidly. These criteria are generally satisfied in the humid regions.

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