Changing controls of soil moisture spatial organization in the Shale Hills Catchment

K. Takagi, H. S. Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Modeling hydrological processes often requires the identification of dominant controls on soil moisture spatial organization under different climatic conditions at various soil depths. In this study, we utilized a four-year database consisting of soil moisture measurements at 106 locations from near-surface down to 1.1m depth across a forested catchment in central Pennsylvania, USA. Our objectives were to 1) compare the spatial organization of soil moisture within different soil-landform units and its temporal persistence at different depths under varying catchment wetness conditions and 2) investigate correlation strength between soil moisture content and 11 soil-terrain attributes and the temporal change of such correlation. Our results showed that the catchment's near-surface (<0.3m) soil moisture organization exhibited clear seasonal trends: during winter through early summer, areas of high soil moisture were concentrated within convergent landforms; while during summer through early fall, soil moisture was more uniformly distributed throughout this complex terrain catchment. This suggests that under dry conditions soil moisture removal (primarily through evapotranspiration) had a significant influence on the organization of near-surface soil moisture, while topography was an important control on soil moisture spatial organization under wet conditions. Subsurface (>0.3 to 1.1m) soil moisture organization, however, exhibited increasing temporal persistence with depth, and subsoil moisture above the catchment-wide average was concentrated within convergent landforms under both wet and dry conditions. Topographic wetness index, slope, depth to bedrock, and percent (by weight) clay and rock fragment were significant (p<0.05) factors influencing soil moisture content on at least 80% of 91 measurement days analyzed for all soil depths. Intermediate depths (>0.3 to <0.7m) exhibited the highest coefficient of determination (R 2) in linear regression for topographic wetness index, suggesting that lateral subsurface flow may be an important driver of soil moisture dynamics at these depths in this catchment. Mean R 2 values for slope, depth to bedrock, and percent clay and rock fragment increased with increasing depth, confirming the importance of deep soil moisture storage on subsoil moisture organization. We conclude that the controls on this catchment's soil moisture spatial organization at the near-surface (<0.3m) fluctuates seasonally between evapotranspiration and topography; that at intermediate depths (0.3 to 0.7m) the soil moisture organization is controlled significantly by lateral subsurface flow; and that the organization at deeper depths (>0.7m) becomes more temporally persistent and is primarily a function of both topography and soil depth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-302
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science


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