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Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101


Intraseasonal dynamics of soil moisture variability within a small

agricultural maize cropped ®eld
F. Hupet*, M. Vanclooster
Department of Environmental Sciences and Land Use Planning, Universite Catholique de Louvain, Unite de Genie Rural,
Place Croix du Sud 2, BP 2, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Received 22 May 2001; revised 13 November 2001; accepted 19 December 2001

The spatio-temporal dynamics of soil water content was investigated within a small agricultural maize cropped ®eld located
in Belgium. Soil moisture measurements were intensively made between May 30 and September 13, 1999 on 28 sampling
locations at different depths (from 0 to 125 cm) with both TDR and neutron probe. The adopted sampling scheme resulted in a
comprehensive data set of nearly 8000 soil moisture measurements. Using this data set, we ®rst probe the role of factors
controlling the spatio-temporal soil moisture dynamics for the different considered soil depths. Special emphasis is thereby
given to the role of the vegetation in the space±time relationships of soil moisture. Secondly, we identify the temporal dynamics
of the spatial structure of soil moisture patterns at different soil depths. Thirdly, we investigate the relationship between the
mean soil moisture and the spatial variability across time, analysing through the season the optimal sampling strategies to adopt
for providing the ®eld areal soil moisture within a given prede®ned error limit. The results showed that the vegetation, spatially
variable within the ®eld, and subsequently through the process of evapotranspiration and the root water uptake, plays a non-
negligible role in the temporal dynamics of the observed soil moisture patterns for the super®cial layers. The spatial structure of
these soil moisture patterns was non-existent or only weakly marked. The study ®nally indicated that a negative correlation
exists between the spatial variability and the mean soil moisture, implicitly suggesting that the sampling has to be more
intensive for the drier conditions. Besides these results, this study reemphasises the importance of conducting soil moisture
spatial variability studies with measurements performed on the entire hydrological active zone and to adopt temporally
unchanged sampling locations in order to progress in the thorough understanding of the physical processes generating the
soil moisture spatial variability. q 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Soil moisture; Spatial variability; Field-scale; Vegetation growth; Sampling

1. Introduction fall into in®ltration and runoff and the partitioning of

net radiation into sensible and latent heat. In addition, it
Soil moisture is a key state variable for a wide vari- controls the subsurface drainage of water and thereby
ety of hydrological processes acting over a range of the leaching of chemicals to the groundwater. It
spatial and temporal scales. For example, soil moisture is therefore evident that a thorough understanding of
is one of the factors in¯uencing the partitioning of rain- the soil moisture behaviour is of primary importance
for soil hydrological research and engineering applica-
tions in areas such as irrigation scheduling, soil
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: hupet@geru.ucl.ac.be (F. Hupet), based precision farming, hydrological modelling,
vanclooster@geru.ucl.ac.be (M. Vanclooster). ¯ood forecasting, and estimating the groundwater
0022-1694/02/$ - see front matter q 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0022-169 4(02)00016-1
F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101 87

recharge. During the last decade an increasing number that during the vegetative period, the vegetation
of studies have been published focusing on the areal through the process of evapotranspiration plays a
estimation of soil moisture, considering explicitly the non-negligible role in the development of spatial soil
spatio-temporal variations of this property (e.g. Crave moisture patterns within ®elds. This role of the evapo-
and Gascuel-Odoux, 1997; Grayson and Western, transpiration process was already implicitly suggested
1998; Famiglietti et al., 1999). These studies, often by Grayson et al. (1997) within its concepts of
based on the near-surface soil moisture (0±5 cm), preferred states and local control in the development
were conducted at different spatial scales (1 m 2 to a of spatial soil moisture patterns and by Western et al.
few km 2), at different temporal scales (few days to (1999a) with the very small-scale variations contribut-
few years), with different measurement techniques ing signi®cantly to the poor performance of the terrain
(e.g. gravimetric sampling, TDR, remote sensing), in indices within the Tarrawarra catchment.
a variety of hydrologic and climatic conditions. Within The observed soil moisture variability within a ®eld
all these studies, the important spatio-temporal is likely to re¯ect the combined in¯uences of the
dynamics of soil moisture have been put forward. above-mentioned factors acting at different spatial
This spatio-temporal variability is in¯uenced by topo- scales. In order to quantify and describe spatial varia-
graphic features such as the soil surface slope angle bility of soil moisture, the geostatistical correlation
(Hills and Reynolds, 1969; Moore et al., 1988; Nyberg, structure needs to be identi®ed. Indeed, quantitative
1996) and slope orientation (Reid, 1973; Western et al., estimations of this structure are required for a number
1999a), by the soil (hydrodynamics) properties of purposes such as, for example at the ®eld-scale, the
(Henninger et al., 1976; Crave and Gascuel-Odoux, interpolation of spatial patterns from point measure-
1997), by the vegetation distribution (Bouten et al., ments and the subsequent estimation of the average
1992; Mohanty et al., 2000a), by land use and in parti- ®eld soil moisture, and for example the determination
cular the agricultural practices (Famiglietti et al., of the optimal spacing between sampling points.
1999), by the climatic variability and by the combined Nevertheless, rigorous quantitative estimations of
effects of some of those factors (e.g. Hawley et al., the geostatistical structure of soil moisture are prone
1983). However, until now the environmental control- to various dif®culties as described by Western et al.
ling factors have been investigated rather unequally. (1998) and Western and BloÈschl (1999) as the
For example, topographical control of soil moisture observed geostatistical structure is directly a function
has been studied far more extensively than that of of the soil moisture measurement scale de®ned by the
vegetation. This research bias can mainly be explained spacing, extent and support.
by the current availability of detailed digital elevation Besides the challenge of determining the relative
models, which can be used to derive statistical distri- roles of the different factors governing the spatio-
butions of terrain indices related to the spatial patterns temporal dynamics of soil moisture and of deriving
of soil moisture. The vegetation factor on the other the geostatistical structure of the soil moisture
hand is, in numerous studies conducted at the ®eld- patterns, more in-depth knowledge on the relationship
scale, explicitly considered as uniform across the between the ®eld-scale means and standard deviations
studied area (e.g. Famiglietti et al., 1998; Mohanty et of soil moisture across time is needed. Whereas some
al., 2000b). However, everyone carefully examining authors have found a positive correlation between the
an agricultural ®eld or forest stand can easily discern standard deviation and the mean soil moisture (Hills
a variable vegetation growth. This variable growth and Reynolds, 1969; Reynolds, 1970; Bell et al.,
integrates the effect of numerous interacting factors 1980; Robinson and Dean, 1993; Famiglietti et al.,
such as the climatic environment (e.g. radiation in¯ux), 1998) other investigations found no good predictive
the stress (disease attack, soil moisture and nutrient relationship (Hawley et al., 1983; Charpentier and
content), the soil properties and some possible human Groffman, 1992). Some others studies (e.g. Fami-
disturbances. Furthermore, it is generally well glietti et al., 1999) showed relationships where the
accepted that the vegetation growth is in one way or variance is negatively correlated to the mean soil
another related to the transpired ¯uxes (e.g. Doorenbos moisture. Until now, and in the light of the diversity
and Kassam, 1987). In this context, we can suspect of previous results, there is no well-established
88 F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101

Fig. 1. The experimental ®eld, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Topographic features of the ®eld (1 ha) are shown with the sampling locations
indicated with circle (studied area ˆ 0.63 ha).

consensus about this relationship whereas a sound tions the whole soil moisture pro®le is of important
knowledge of this is of a primary importance for a signi®cance (Western et al., 1998), soil moisture
number of purposes. For example, such relationship variability should be studied for the whole soil
can be interesting to pronounce about the underlying pro®le (or at least over a depth of several deci-
soil moisture spatial variability within remote meters) rather than just over a thin layer at the
sensing pixels or to determine strategic sampling soil surface (BloÈschl and Sivapalan, 1995). In this
periods which minimise the errors for a given framework, we conducted an experiment at the
sample size. ®eld-scale, initially designed to investigate the in
Although there have been a series of studies situ spatial variability of evapotranspiration, provid-
which have improved our understanding of the ing a comprehensive set of soil moisture data,
dynamics of the soil moisture variability, additional allowing us to tackle some of the above-discussed
studies for different spatial and temporal scales and issues. The main objectives of this study are:
for various hydroclimatic and geographic settings
are needed (Georgakakos and Baumer, 1996). 1. to analyse the temporal dynamics of the soil
Keeping in mind that for many hydrologic applica- moisture spatial variability and to probe the
F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101 89

role of governing factors for the different consid- September 1999, soil moisture measurements were
ered soil depths. Special emphasis will be given made on 60 dates by means of TDR (cable tester
to the role of the vegetation in the space±time Tektronix 1502 B) and on 45 dates with a neutron
relationships of soil moisture; probe device (Institute of Hydrology Neutron Probe
2. to identify the temporal dynamics of the spatial System II). This resulted in a comprehensive data set
structure of soil moisture patterns at different of nearly 8000 soil moisture measurements.
soil depths; and Climate at the site is moderate humid with an aver-
3. to investigate the relationship between the mean age annual rainfall of 780 mm (Dupriez and Sneyers,
soil moisture and the spatial variability across 1982), which is relatively well distributed over the
time, analysing through the season the optimal year and with an average annual ETo of 527.6 mm
sampling strategies (in terms of number of (Gellens-Meulenberghs and Gellens, 1992). A
samples) to adopt for providing the ®eld areal weather station located near the ®eld provided all
soil moisture within a given prede®ned error climatic variables, i.e. dry and wet temperatures,
limit. shortwave radiation, wind speed and rainfall. The
course of the experiment was marked by three long
low rainfall periods. The ®rst occurred between the
7th and the 20th of June (DOY 158±171) with a rain-
2. Material and methods fall amount of only 1.9 mm, the second between the
6th of July and the 3th of August (DOY 187±215)
2.1. Experimental site and measurements with a rainfall amount of 8 mm, and the third between
the 20th of August and the 13th of September (DOY
The experiment was conducted in a 10,000 m 2 agri- 232±256) with a rainfall amount of 1.6 mm. These
cultural ®eld located in Louvain-La-Neuve (Belgium) periods were interrupted by rainy events, some of
on a plateau. The study was focused within an area of them with very high intensities (i.e. DOY 215).
6300 m 2 centred on the ®eld. A contour map of the The ®eld was cropped with maize (Zea mays L.)
®eld (Fig. 1) elucidates that the surface relief is rather which was sown on the 25th of April 1999 with a
uniform with a maximum relief of 3 m for the whole density of 110,000 plants per hectare and harvested
®eld and only 1.8 m for the area of interest. A weak on the 10th of October 1999 (DOY 283). The rows
topographic convergence is present between sampling were spaced 75 cm apart and all the measurement
points 22 and 23 (Fig. 1). Because of its speci®c topo- instruments were installed in the middle of the rows.
graphic position, the experimental ®eld is assumed not On each of the 28 sampling locations, we selected 10
to be in¯uenced by the adjacent areas through the maize plants (5 within each row located on each side
process of lateral surface water ¯ow. The soil is clas- of the sampling location) that were considered as
si®ed as a well-drained silty-loam (Aba, according to those in¯uencing, through the process of root water
the Belgian soil classi®cation). Textural analysis for uptake, the measured soil moisture pro®le. Note that
the super®cial layer (0±40 cm) yield a loam content of these 10 maize plants are therefore situated on the
82%, a clay content of 12% and a sand content of 6%. border of a 75 £ 75 cm 2 in the centre of which is
Fig. 1 also shows the adopted regular sampling grid measured the soil moisture pro®le. On each of the
of 28 point measurement, each separated by 15 m 280 selected maize plants, we measured the number
sampling intervals. The sampling points were located of growing leaves as well as the number and size of
by means of a Differential Global Positioning System full grown leaves, thereby deriving the mean leaf area
(DGPS). On each sampling point, we installed verti- index (LAI) on the 12th of July and the 5th of Septem-
cally a triple wire TDR probe to monitor the soil ber for each 28 sites according to the methodology
moisture in the top 20 cm of the soil pro®le, an proposed by Ruget et al. (1996). The ®nal yield was
150 cm access tube to measure with a neutron probe also measured on each 28 sampling points on the 17th
soil moisture at 25, 50, 75, 100 and 125 cm depths and September 1999.
two tensiometers at 115 and 135 cm (data not used in During the experimental campaign and the follow-
this study). Between the 30th of May and the 13th of ing winter, two in situ calibration curves were
90 F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101

Fig. 2. Daily precipitation and space±time ®elds of volumetric soil moisture content for the different depths: (a) 0±20 cm, (b) 25 cm, (c) 50 cm,
(d) 75 cm, (e) 100 cm, (f) 125 cm.

established, respectively, for the TDR and neutron variance associated with an individual neutron probe
probe. For each calibration curve, 25 pairs of observed measurement, we used the methodology proposed by
vs reference soil moisture were measured within the Haverkamp et al. (1984) and Vauclin et al. (1984).
range 20±45%. The gravimetric method was consid- This methodology was extended (not presented
ered as the reference method. To derive the total here) for the TDR measurements. The resulting total
F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101 91

variance (i.e. the instrument and calibration compo- normally distributed, the results obtained by the
nents) associated with an individual soil moisture central limit theorem were checked by applying the
estimation is 1.2 and 1.8 (%v/v) 2, respectively, for bootstrapping technique as used by Dane et al. (1986)
the neutron probe and for TDR. Consequently, the with 1000 bootstrap replicates.
respective con®dence intervals (probability level of
95%) for an estimated soil moisture content are
^2.24 and ^2.75%. 3. Results and discussion
2.2. Data analysis 3.1. Spatio-temporal dynamics of the soil moisture
First of all, we investigated systematically for each
Space±time ®elds of volumetric soil moisture
depth and each sampling day if the soil moisture data
content for the different depths are given in Fig. 2
were normally distributed both with the visual inspec-
on which the Y-axis numbering is referring to the
tion of normal probability plots and with the Shapiro±
sampling locations indicated in Fig. 1. Also shown
Wilk statistic (Shapiro and Wilk, 1965). The degree of
are the daily precipitation depths. A thorough inspec-
spatial dependence was then investigated by using
tion of Fig. 2 allows details of the spatio-temporal
standard geostatistical techniques (Isaaks and Srivas-
behaviour of soil moisture within the ®eld to be
tava, 1989) such as the visual examination of sample
addressed. First of all, the soil moisture temporal
semivariograms. The sample semivariogram, gs …h† at
dynamics is obviously depth dependent. The temporal
a given lag, h, is given by
dynamics is more pronounced closer to the soil
1 X surface, where soil is subjected to the root water
gs …h† ˆ … u 2 uj † 2 …1†
2N…h† i;j i uptake and rainfall events. The three low rainfall peri-
ods are relatively well identi®ed for the super®cial soil
with N the number of pairs of observations for a speci- layers, especially for the second drying period (DOY
®ed lag, ui and uj the soil moisture at sampling loca- 187±215). Indeed, as a result of the important tran-
tions, respectively, i and j and the summation spiration from the well developed maize crop
performed for all the i, j pairs of observations of the combined with a high climatic demand, the water
selected lag. In order to ensure a minimum number of depletion of the super®cial layers (0±20, 25 cm) is
pairs of observations within each lag, only omnisdir- abundant during the second drying period. For the
ectional semivariograms were used with a minimum third period, the climatic demand is quite similar,
and maximum lag of, respectively, 15 and 58 m. This yet the maize crop much more senescent, resulting
resulted in a minimum of 33 soil moisture data pairs in a less depletion. The temporal dynamics in the
for each selected lag interval, except 20 and 23 pairs intermediate layers (50, 75 and 100 cm) is clearly
for the 42.5 and 45 m lags. The semivariograms were more attenuated. Nevertheless, these layers become
only plotted for the normally or close to normally progressively drier in response to the root water
distributed soil moisture values. Geostatistical analy- uptake combined with the upward ¯ux. Fig. 2 also
sis was done by means of a geostatistical toolbox shows that, within the deeper layers (75, 100 and
programmed in a MATLABe environment. 125 cm), the temporal persistence of some dry
For quantifying the number of samples necessary to (sampling locations 4, 5 and 16) and wet zones (loca-
estimate the mean with a given accuracy for a given tion 23) within the ®eld remains high. The persistence
probability level, we applied the central limit theorem of drier zones can be explained by the sandy material
underlying the loamy soil. Indeed, it is well known
ta2 s2
nˆ …2† that the thickness of the loamy layer is quite variable
d within the region but also within ®elds (Dudal, 1953).
where n is the number of samples, s 2 is the estimated It is therefore assumed that the `dry' sampling loca-
sample variance, ta2 the Student's parameter corre- tions (4, 5 and 16) are situated where the loamy soil is
sponding to the probability level and d is the relative shallow, leading to measuring the soil moisture
accuracy. For the soil moisture values which were not within the transition zone between the loamy soil
92 F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101

Fig. 3. Daily precipitation depths and intraseasonal evolution of the spatial variability and the mean soil moisture content for the differents soil

and the sandy material. Visual observations of the soil variability of soil moisture within the ®eld from Fig.
pro®le on the sampling locations 4 and 5 and some 2 is quantitatively summarised in Fig. 3. This ®gure
u 2 h ®eld values for these locations con®rm this shows the temporal evolution of the observed spatial
hypothesis. The sampling location 23 on the other variances expressed in terms of standard deviation
hand is very wet at 75, 100 and 125 cm depth. It is and the mean soil moisture for the different depths.
hypothesised that a ®ne textured layer at this location Also shown are the daily precipitation depths for a
leads locally to a perched water table. better insight of the temporal dynamics of the spatial
The qualititative information on the spatial variability.
F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101 93

Table 1 20 cm is due to the smaller sampling volume of

Mean LAI of 10 plants measured on each sampling location (Sl) on TDR. For the deeper layers (100 and 125 cm depth),
DOY 193. Also shown are the yields (dry matter production)
measured on DOY 260
the observed spatial variability increases again with a
value for the maximum standard deviation of 0.04 and
Sl LAI Yield (g) Sl LAI Yield (g) 0.042, respectively. This high variability observed at
these depths is almost exclusively explained by some
1 2.81 1690 15 3.97 1923
2 3.34 2028 16 3.82 2086 singular wet and dry spots deeper in the pro®le. As
3 3.44 1767 17 3.47 1644 explained earlier, those spots can probably be related
4 3.26 1944 18 3.35 1887 to areas of different texture, i.e. different hydraulic
5 4.26 2755 19 3.99 2267 properties, leading to a variable observed soil moist-
6 2.62 1537 20 4.09 2262
ure. Note that those observed values of soil moisture
7 4.21 2038 21 3.71 2039
8 3.41 1680 22 3.58 1744 spatial variability are in the range of those found in
9 4.32 2425 23 3.94 2087 other ®elds and small catchment-scale experiments
10 3.85 2199 24 3.25 1751 (e.g. Charpentier and Groffman, 1992; Western et
11 3.65 2136 25 3.67 2228 al., 1999b). Note also that it was considered in our
12 4.05 2446 26 3.74 2208
study that all the observed soil moisture variance is
13 4.12 2397 27 3.71 2264
14 3.77 2163 28 2.22 1552 explained by the spatial variability within the ®eld.
Indeed, whereas the measurement variances (i.e. the
calibration and instrument components) on an indivi-
First of all, Fig. 3 reveals that the temporal varia- dual soil moisture estimation for neutron probe and
tions of the mean daily soil moisture is depth depen- TDR, respectively, are 1.2 and 1.8 (%v/v) 2, these
dent, and less pronounced deeper in the pro®le. variances are drastically reduced for an areal soil
Indeed, the observed range for the 0±20 cm layer is moisture estimation. This was effectively con®rmed
between 0.4 and 0.21, for the 25 cm 0.38±0.22, for (results not shown in this paper) with the methodology
the 50 cm 0.36±0.24, for the 75 cm 0.37±0.28, for the developed by Vauclin et al. (1984) for the neutron
100 cm 0.36±0.31 and for the 125 cm 0.35± probe and with a similar methodology developed for
0.31 cm 3 cm 23. Similar results, but for longer time the TDR.
periods, were already observed by Loague (1992). In the following paragraphs we explain the
The observed spatial variability is also depth depen- observed temporal dynamics of the spatial soil moist-
dent. For the 0±75 cm layer which can be considered ure patterns. Firstly, it can be easily observed in Fig. 3
as the active root-zone, the spatial variability tends to that the temporal stability of the spatial variability is
decrease with depth with a maximum standard devia- more pronounced for the deeper soil layers, whereas
tion of 0.038 for the 0±20 cm, 0.035 for the 25 cm for the active root-zone (0±75 cm depth) the spatial
depth, 0.031 for the 50 cm depth and 0.03 for the variability is much more time variant. For example, a
75 cm depth. In this context, one should remember sharp increase of the soil moisture spatial variability is
that two different techniques, TDR and neutron observed during the second dry period (DOY 187±
probe, were used to measure soil water content, 215). This increase is well marked for the 0±20 and
each with speci®c sampling volumes estimated, 25 cm depths and also with a time lag for the 50 and
respectively, at approximately 1000 and 15,000 cm 3. 75 cm depths. As during such a dry period the
Although it is virtually impossible to quanti®y the temporal dynamics of the soil moisture is mainly
direct impact of the two different sampling volumes governed by the root water uptake and as the LAI
on the observed variability, this might explain in some measured on DOY 193 on each sampling location is
extent the larger variability of the ®rst 20 cm (with indeed very variable (see Table 1) we can suspect that
TDR) compared to that measured at other depths (with this increase in the spatial variability is mainly driven
neutron probe). Nevertheless, as observed variability by a variable root water uptake within the ®eld. To test
increases gradually from 75 to 25 cm for neutron this hypothesis, the root water uptake, here assimi-
probe measurements, there is no reasons to believe lated to the soil water depletion, between DOY 192
that the larger variability observed for the ®rst and 215 was determined on each sampling location by
94 F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101

Fig. 4. Relation between the LAI and the soil water depletion (mm) for the different soil depths for the period between 09/07 and 02/08 (DOY

means of a simpli®ed water balance …uDOY192 2 root water uptake ®rstly affects the surface soil layers.
uDOY215 † for the different depths. As shown in Fig. Indeed, the spatial variability increases substantially
4, the calculated root water uptake was then correlated from DOY 190 onwards for the 25 cm depth, DOY
with the measured LAI. Although these correlations 205 for the 50 cm depth and only from DOY 210 for
are not well de®ned (linear regression with maximum the 75 cm depth. All these observations con®rm the
r 2 of 0.31 for 25 and 50 cm depths), there is a trend important role of the vegetation in explaining soil
between the root water uptake and the LAI especially moisture variability, as was already suggested by
for the 25, 50 and 75 cm depths. That tends to con®rm Grayson et al. (1997) and Western et al. (1999a).
that the root water uptake is spatially variable within We showed that vegetation is spatially variable within
the ®eld at a given depth, partially due to the variable the ®eld, inducing variable evapotranspiration rates
areal crop growth, and that it partially controls the (not yet quanti®ed) and consequently variable root
temporal dynamics of the spatial soil moisture varia- water uptake rates. It is often put forward that the
bility. Furthermore, as shown in Fig. 3, the increasing variable radiation in¯ux is the main factor controlling
spatial variability is delayed for the deeper layer as the the spatial variability of evapotranspiration. Yet, it is
F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101 95

Fig. 5. Sample omnisdirectional semivariograms calculated for DOY 214 for the six different depths: (a) 0±20 cm, (b) 25 cm, (c) 50 cm, (d)
75 cm, (e) 100 cm, (f) 125 cm. Also shown are the observed total variances (dotted line).

not relevant to consider this source of variation as period DOY 160±230 is mainly explained by the vari-
explanatory factor, given the scale of our ®eld study able root water uptake, vegetation can explain about 6.7
and the nearly ¯at topography. (%v/v) 2 of the variance for the 0±20 cm depth and 6.2
After the long low rainfall period (DOY 187±215), (%v/v) 2 of the variance for the 25 cm depth. In light of
the rainfall event of DOY 215 tends to slightly decrease such results, it is not surprising that terrain indices will in
the spatial variability of the 0±20 cm layer. This some cases perform poorly in explaining soil moisture
decrease can probably be explained by the high intensity variability as was already suggested by Western et al.
of this rainfall event (20 mm in less than 20 min.) (1999a). It is important to note that, despite the lack of
combined with some variable hydraulic soil properties quantitative information about the spatial variability of
leading to some differential in®ltration in the topsoil. soil hydraulic properties of the surface layers, these
After this rainfall event, the spatial variability increases properties must probably also contribute partially to
again for the 0±20 and 25 cm layers until DOY 232 from the soil moisture variability. For the two deepest depths
which it slightly decreases. If we consider that the (100 and 125 cm), we observe that the high spatial varia-
increasing soil moisture spatial variability during the bility is very temporally stable and slightly increasing
96 F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101

Fig. 6. Standard deviation of soil moisture content (cm 3 cm 23) versus mean soil moisture content (cm 3 cm 23) for the different soil depths.

during the experiment. As a matter of fact, it is not so two deeper depths, there is a general increasing trend
surprising because the main factors controlling the in semi-variance with increasing lag, suggesting that
temporal dynamics of the soil moisture variability at the sill is not reached for the maximum lag. In fact,
this scale are acting mainly on the super®cial layers. results (not shown here) of a more recent experiment
within the same ®eld with 50 sampling locations at
3.2. Spatial structure 0.9 m intervals suggest that there is a well-de®ned
anisotropic spatial correlation of 40 m for the 100
In a ®rst step, we investigated the normality of the and 125 cm depths. Unfortunately, the experimental
soil moisture data for each day and depth. The set-up of 1999 did not allow us to investigate this
Shapiro±Wilk statistic and the visual inspection of anisotropy. For the surface layers (0±75 cm) no
the probability plots showed that the data are spatial structure can be discerned considering the
normally or approximately normally distributed for adopted sampling scheme. These results are in agree-
the surface soil layers (0±20, 25, 50 and 75 cm). For ment with the ®ndings of Charpentier and Groffman
the two deepest soil depths (100 and 125 cm), the (1992) who carried out a similar experiment in terms
data are non-normal but tending towards normality. of measurement extent and spacing. The observed
Omnisdirectional sample semivariograms were then lack of spatial structure for the super®cial soil layers
calculated systematically for each depth but only for is not so surprising if we consider that the vegetation
the sampling days where the data were normal or is effectively the main factor controlling the devel-
close to normality. Fig. 5 shows the sample semivar- opment of the soil moisture patterns. Indeed as the
iograms calculated for each depth for one represen- vegetation growth is variable at short distance (few
tative run (DOY 215). Also shown in Fig. 5(f) is the meters), we can suspect that spatial correlations are
number of pairs of observations for the different lags. existent but for smaller lags than those investigated.
No apparent spatial structure was found for that day Furthermore, our results are consistent with the ®nd-
(DOY 215) and semivariograms calculated for other ings of Musters and Bouten (1999) showing a range
days showed similar behaviour. Nevertheless, for the of 14 m in a forest stand.
F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101 97

Fig. 7. Intraseasonal evolution of the number of samples for three selected soil depths (0±20 cm and b, 50 cm c and d and 125 cm depth e and f)
for 95 and 99% probability level for different levels of absolute error (^1.5± ^ 2.5± ^ 3.5% volumetric soil moisture content).

3.3. Sampling analysis standard deviation of soil moisture within the ®eld
versus its mean value for the different depths. We
The soil moisture data set collected in this study can observe that the absolute variability, i.e. the stan-
allows investigation of the relationship between the dard deviation, increase quite linearly with decreasing
®eld-scale means and variances of soil moisture mean soil moisture. Furthermore, Fig. 6 shows that
content across time. If such relationships exist, they this relationship is depth dependent, with important
can be of great signi®cance, for example, to optimise differences between the super®cial depths (0±75 cm)
the number of samples required to estimate the mean and more profound depths (100 and 125 cm). This
value within a speci®ed limit of error. Fig. 6 shows the negative correlation is consistent with the previous
98 F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101

Table 2
Summary of the number of samples (minimum and maximum) needed to reach a given absolute precision for the different depths for two given
probability levels. Results ( p ) are also presented for 100 cm depth without `outliers' (sampling points 4, 5 and 23) and 125 cm depth (sampling
points 4, 5, 16 and 23)

Depth (cm) 95% Probability level 99% Probability level

^ 1.5% ^ 2.5% ^ 3.5% ^ 1.5% ^ 2.5% ^ 3.5%

0±20 2±33 1±12 1±6 5±60 1±22 1±11

25 5±23 1±8 1±4 6±43 3±15 1±7
50 2±17 1±6 1±3 5±31 1±11 1±5
75 4±17 1±6 1±3 7±30 2±11 1±5
100 13±32 4±11 2±5 23±59 8±21 5±10
100 p 1±7 1±2 1±2 1±14 1±5 1±2
125 20±33 7±11 3±6 34±60 12±21 6±11
125 p 1±8 1±2 1±2 3±13 1±4 1±2

®ndings of Famiglietti et al. (1999), who analysed the temporal variations of the number of samples, which
surface soil moisture within six different cultivated is depth dependent. This is a corollary of the temporal
relatively ¯at remote sensing pixels (0.64 km 2). behaviour of the soil moisture spatial variability
Nevertheless, they are in contrast with other previous presented in Fig. 3. For the 99% probability level,
investigations (e.g. Hills and Reynolds, 1969; Hennin- we show that the number of samples drastically
ger et al., 1976; Famiglietti et al., 1998). Note most of increases. This ®gure also illustrates quite clearly
these studies, in contrast with our results, were that optimal sampling strategies have to be adjusted
conducted on experimental sites with quite well across the season. Optimising the sampling design
pronounced topographic features. could also be investigated by the use of some techni-
The observed relationship between the ®eld-scale ques such as the one based on the time stability
means and standard deviations of soil moisture concept (e.g. Vachaud et al., 1985; Grayson and
directly affects the number of samples required to Western, 1998). Although this technique has not yet
reach a same level of accuracy on the ®eld-scale been investigated in our study, Fig. 2 suggests that
mean soil moisture. The time series of the number this kind of technique could be appealing mainly
of required samples was calculated for each depth for the deeper layers for which a strong time stability
with the central limit theorem. As the W statistic is observed.
(Shapiro and Wilk, 1965) showed that the soil moist- Table 2 summarises the minimum and maximum
ure content was not systematically normally distribu- number of samples for the course of our experiment.
ted over the ®eld, especially for the deeper layers (100 These are relatively low for the estimations of the
and 125 cm), we con®rmed the results obtained by mean soil moisture within an absolute error of 3.5%,
means of the central limit theorem with those of the slightly increasing for an absolute error of 2.5% and
bootstrapping method. Comparisons showed very becoming large, considering the small sampled area,
small differences between the two techniques. Fig. 7 for the 1.5% error. It is also clear in Table 2 that the
shows the intraseasonal evolution of the number of number of required samples decreases from the soil
samples for three selected depths (0±20 cm a and b, surface to the 75 cm depth to increase again for the
50 cm c and d and 125 cm depth e and f) for two deeper layer. Nevertheless, if the same exercise is
probability levels (95 and 99%) and for three absolute done for 100 and 125 cm depths without `outliers'
errors (1.5±2.5±3.5% volumetric soil moisture). (sampling locations 4, 5, 16 and 23), the number of
Firstly, we can observe in Fig. 7 that the number of samples is strongly reduced (cf. Table 2). The
samples used in our experiment was suf®cient to esti- increasing soil moisture spatial variability between
mate the mean within an absolute error of 1.5% for a 75 cm depth and the soil surface also suggests that
probability level of 95%. A striking feature is the the number of samples required for estimating
F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101 99

Fig. 8. Relation between the mean soil moisture content and the number of samples required to reach the mean ^1.5 at the 95% probability

appropriately the mean of the 0±5 cm soil moisture during the vegetative growth period that the soil
content, which is of interest for teledetection moisture spatial variability tends to strongly increase
purposes, could increase even further. Finally, Fig. 8 in the super®cial soil layers (0±50 cm). In order to
shows the relationship between the mean ®eld soil elucidate this behaviour, we quanti®ed the root
moisture and the number of samples needed to reach water uptake based on a simpli®ed water balance.
the mean ^1.5 at the 95% probability level. Such We showed that the calculated root water uptake
relationships, which have to be con®rmed in the variability, like the measured vegetation growth,
next few years with other investigations, could be of was important. Furthermore, signi®cant correlations
the greatest interest for the hydrological community between the vegetation growth and root water uptake
dealing with ground truthing of remote sensing data, was observed. In view of these observations, we
estimation of mean soil moisture in hydrological conclude that the vegetation growth, and subsequently
modelling, irrigation scheduling and other soil the evapotranspiration and the root water uptake play
hydrological applications. a non-negligible role in the temporal dynamics of the
observed soil moisture patterns. Considering that the
spatial variability is due to the root water uptake, vari-
4. Conclusions able vegetation growth could explain spatial variance
of 6.2±6.7 (%v/v) 2 for the super®cial layers. Such
In this paper, we addressed three basic questions high values can also explain the poor performance
related to the spatial (®eld-scale) and temporal (intra- of the terrain indices as shown, among others, by
seasonal) dynamics of the soil moisture content. Western et al. (1999a). To the authors' knowledge,
These questions were addressed by means of a there have been no previous detailed studies
comprehensive data set of nearly 8000 soil moisture conducted at the ®eld-scale investigating the role of
measurements, collected on 28 locations at different the vegetation in the spatio-temporal dynamics of the
depths (from 0 to 125 cm) within a small cropped soil moisture. In this context, this study aimed to bring
®eld. The ®rst question deals with the factors control- new insights into the role of the vegetation until now
ling the spatial soil moisture patterns. We observed often put forward but never quanti®ed.
100 F. Hupet, M. Vanclooster / Journal of Hydrology 261 (2002) 86±101

The second question was related to the soil moist- installation of the experimental set-up. Farmer N.
ure spatial structure. We showed that for the adopted Braibant is also acknowledged for providing free
sampling scheme, the observed spatial structure was access to the ®eld and his willing cooperation during
non-existent or only weakly marked. For this kind of all the course of the experiment.
small ®elds, without signi®cant relief, and during the
vegetative period where vegetation would act as the
main controlling factor, it is quite logical to observe References
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