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This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 56 No. 4, p. 1036-1042
    Received: Jan 16, 1991

    * Corresponding author(s):
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Shrinkage of Bare and Cultivated Soil

  1. Alan R. Mitchell  and
  2. M. Th. van Genuchten
  1. Oregon State University, Central Oregon Agricultural Research Center, 850 NW Dogwood Lane, Madras, OR 97741
    USDA-ARS, U.S. Salinity Laboratory, 4500 Glenwood Dr., Riverside, CA 92501



The surface subsidence of shrink-swell soils may be used to estimate the soil profile water content and soil behaving. Roots are known to affect cracking patterns by anchoring the soil mass, thus influencing soil shrinkage. Our hypothesis was that plant roots will influence soil shrinkage measured by vertical surface subsidence. We tested this hypothesis by measuring shrinkage in a large weighing lysimeter for bare soil with no root system and for soils under wheat (Triticum turgidum L.) and alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) crops possessing fibrous and tap root systems, respectively. The volume-loss shrinkage curves for both bare and cultivated soil were found to conform to the straight-lines model, with distinct changes in shrinkage zones, in spite of uneven water-content distributions in the profile. The shrinkage characteristic (i.e., the differential change in bulk volume divided by the change in volume water) was greater for fallow (0.677) than for wheat (0.380) and alfalfa (0.377), with the cultivated conditions being similar. These data suggest that plant roots may have large effects on in situ soil shrinkage rates and the water-content zones throughout which they occur. This result means that a soil's shrinkage characteristic may change depending on the cropping condition. It also means that shrinkage measurements from soils without rooting systems (e.g., small cores or clods) are not necessarily representative of actual shrinkage properties observed in the field.

Contribution of the USDA-ARS, U.S. Salinity Laboratory.

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