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Temporal variability of soil hydraulic properties under different soil management practices

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Title: Temporal variability of soil hydraulic properties under different soil management practices
Author: Gill, Shahid Maqsood
Department: School of Environmental Sciences
Program: Environmental Sciences
Advisor: Parkin, Gary
Abstract: Agricultural management practices including tillage and irrigation have a considerable effect on soil physical and hydraulic properties in space and time. Tillage practices initially alter the soil physical and hydraulic properties depending on the type and depth of tillage. These changes are reverted back to original conditions due to reconsolidation during cycles of wetting and drying. Irrigation techniques can manipulate the reversion process dynamically due to different modes of wetting. The combined effects of tillage and irrigation have rarely been investigated. Therefore, two experiments were conducted to investigate the effect of different tillage practices and irrigation techniques on soil physical properties and temporal variations in soil hydraulic properties, one on wheat and second on the following maize crop grown on the same plots. The tillage and irrigation treatments implemented for the wheat crop were repeated for the subsequent maize crop restoring the same treatment layout plan. Intact soil core samples were collected, in the middle of the wheat crop before irrigation and the end of the maize crop season, for the determination of soil physical and hydraulic properties. Field saturated hydraulic conductivity (K_fs) was determined using the Guelph pressure infiltrometer method and volumetric soil water content (θ_v) and potential (ψ_m) was measured in the field using water content sensors and tensiometers, respectively. The wheat crop received rain showers from time to time, while in maize, a heavy spell of monsoon rains following tillage caused most of the soil reconsolidation. So, the greater intensity of rains, rather than the cycles of wetting and drying, became primarily responsible for the differences in soil physical and hydraulic properties between the two crops. Moldboard plow resulted in an increase in yield and improvement of soil hydraulic properties during both crop seasons. Flood irrigation reverted back the effects of tillage on soil hydraulic properties greater than sprinkler irrigation, while it did not affect the yield significantly. The dynamics of volumetric soil water content (θ_v) differed, depending on tillage type, irrigation technique and crop season. Moldboard plow was the wettest after rain or irrigation events but it dried quicker than other tillage treatments. Flood irrigation caused higher wetting than sprinkler irrigation. These wetting effects were greater in wheat as compared to maize crop. Temporal variability calculated as time averaged relative difference in θ_v was greater during wheat as compared to maize, while temporal stability calculated as standard deviation of temporal stability decreased with flood irrigation in both crops. Soil bulk density (ρ_b) and water retention characteristics (θ_v (ψ_m )) measured on the intact soil cores and total porosity (φ), plant available water capacity (θ_PAWC) and pore size distribution calculated from water retention data depended on the time of sampling. During wheat, the ρ_b was lower resulting in a higher φ than after maize. Moldboard plow decreased ρ_b increasing φ, while the effect of flood irrigation was opposite in both crops with greater magnitude in wheat. Similarly, the effects of tillage on θ_v (ψ_m ) were observed in both crops, while those of irrigation were observed in maize only. Cultivator treatment retained higher θ_v at higher ψ_m (−30 and −100 kPa), followed by chisel and moldboard plow. Plant available water capacity (θ_PAWC) was greater in maize as compared to the wheat crop. Cultivator had higher θ_PAWC than chisel and moldboard plow in both crops. Wheat had greater volume of larger pores (> 10 μm, φ_(>10)), whereas extraordinary rains as well as irrigations after tillage caused these larger pores to decrease in maize. Moldboard plow had higher φ_(>10) at 10 cm depth in both crops with greater magnitude in wheat. Field saturated hydraulic conductivity (K_fs) determined before irrigations and at the end of both crop seasons was greater in wheat than in maize especially in the first determination. Moldboard plow exhibited greater K_fs followed by chisel plow and cultivator in both crops and it decreased significantly with time in wheat but not in maize. Flood irrigation was responsible for a reduction in K_fs and the effect was greater in wheat as compared to maize. It was concluded that a greater intensity of water application in the form of rains or irrigations can revert the changes in soil physical and hydraulic properties induced by tillage more effectively than the cycles of wetting and drying. Soil hydraulic properties may be optimized with the combination of suitable tillage and irrigation for efficient utilization of water resources.
Date: 2012-12

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