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This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 73 No. 3, p. 898-909
    Received: June 3, 2008

    * Corresponding author(s): robert.schwartz@ars.usda.gov
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Complex Permittivity Model for Time Domain Reflectometry Soil Water Content Sensing: II. Calibration

  1. R.C. Schwartz *,
  2. S.R. Evett and
  3. J.M. Bell
  1. USDA-ARS, Conservation and Production Research Lab., Bushland, TX 79012


Despite numerous applications of time domain reflectometry (TDR), serious difficulties in estimating accurate soil water contents under field conditions remain, especially in fine-textured soils. A complex dielectric mixing model was calibrated for fine-textured soils (24–45% clay) and its accuracy was evaluated and compared with empirical calibrations. The Ap and Bt horizons of two soils were packed into columns and adjusted to volumetric water contents (θ) ranging from air dry to near saturation. Travel time and bulk electrical conductivity (σ0) were measured using TDR at temperatures (T) of 8, 22, and 40°C and using three coaxial cables to obtain a range of input spectrum bandwidths (ωS). Apparent permittivities (K a) were predicted using the complex permittivity model with measured θ, T, σ0, ωS, and soil bulk density, and fitted to measured K a by optimizing specific surface area (A s), the power-law exponent (a), and an empirical polarization loss factor. Measured K a was best approximated using the power-law dielectric mixing model with a semiempirical effective frequency estimate and a = 0.68. Predicted A s increased with increasing clay content, cation exchange capacity, and measured specific surface areas. The two-parameter power-law calibration removed temperature bias in θ estimates and reduced the RMSE in θ estimates by an average of 0.006 m3 m−3 compared with an empirical calibration. Empirical models predicted field θ with oscillations of up to 0.022 m3 m−3 in phase with soil temperatures resulting from permittivity temperature dependencies. In contrast, the calibrated dielectric mixing model removed or dampened in-phase θ fluctuations to <0.004 m3 m−3, which permitted the detection of more subtle changes (<0.02 m3 m−3) in θ.

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