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Definition of soil water dynamics by combining hydrometry and geophysics in a hillslope transect in the KNP.

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The budgeting of water fluxes in the soil is an extremely complex problem, and is compounded by subsurface controls and environmental forces which modify the soil water dynamics. Of the controlling factors, the underlying geology and the soil media are vital components and are often misinterpreted. The geology and soil media components have been neglected mostly because of the difficulty in monitoring the dominant processes that are linked to the water balance in the subsurface. Until recently, hydrometry has been the dominant method of measuring and monitoring the subsurface water balance. Hydrometric measurements have included water content measurement by Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR), soil water potential measurements through tensiometry and groundwater water level monitoring. Hydrometry is still the preferred method of monitoring soil water dynamics, but measurements are generally localised and lateral accumulations and fluxes of water are difficult to interpret. Using geophysical methods and instrumentation to define soil water dynamics could have numerous advantages over conventional hydrometric methods. Among the geophysical techniques dedicated to image the near surface, Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) surveying has been increasingly used for environmental, engineering and geological purposes during the last decade. The aim of this study is to determine if ERT observations could yield the accuracy required to define vertical and lateral soil water dynamics. The ERT instrumentation uses an electrical current that is inserted into the subsurface through various electrode arrangements and a resulting resistance is determined at the take-out electrodes. With the aid of a modelling package these resistance values are reproduced into a pseudosection of underlying resistivity distribution which is influenced by the moisture conditions of the subsurface medium. This geophysical method is primarily used for geological studies but by doing repeated surveys with the same electrode positioning, moisture fluctuation monitoring could be realised. Use of the ERT technique is at the forefront of soil water dynamics monitoring. The main objective of this study is to propose that the ERT instrumentation could be a more efficient and more informative method of studying soil water dynamics than the traditional soil water dynamics monitoring equipment, particularly to define lateral fluxes and accumulation of subsurface water. The study site is a well instrumented transect in the Nkuhlu Exclosures in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, where ongoing soil water dynamics are monitored. The project aims to compare the ERT data to fiR data on a daily basis, over a period of three weeks, during the rain season, monitoring event based wetting and the subsequent drying phases of the soils in a 2-dimensional section. The project and its fmdings are shown to be valuable to the hydrological interpretation of the subsurface water balance. The application is shown to be particularly important to ecohydrology, in the monitoring of soil water dynamics in a 2-dimensional transect and understanding how the natural cycles of water distribution and plant uptake are linked together. The study demonstrates that ERT can be used to observe changes in the water storage and lateral fluxes within a transect which supports varying vegetation and ecologies. The linking of water fluxes in the hydrology cycle to uptakes and controls in the ecosystem has been developed into the research focus known as ecohydrology The use of the ERT instrument can only benefit this research focus in the future. The study demonstrates that ERT instrumentation can be used to provide valuable understanding of subsurface water dynamics and in turn the effects on ecohydrology.


Thesis (M.Sc.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2006.


Ecohydrology., Plant-water relationships., Groundwater-data processing., Soil dynamics--Data processing., Hydraulic measurements., Theses--Bioresources engineering and environmental hydrology.