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Vertical and lateral soil moisture patterns on a Mediterranean karst hillslope


Rodriguez-Caballero,  E.
Multiphase Chemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Canton, Y., Rodriguez-Caballero, E., Contreras, S., Villagarcia, L., Li, X.-Y., Sole-Benet, A., et al. (2016). Vertical and lateral soil moisture patterns on a Mediterranean karst hillslope. Journal of hydrology and hydromechanics, 64(3), 209-217. doi:10.1515/johh-2016-0030.

The need for a better understanding of factors controlling the variability of soil water content (theta) in space and time to adequately predict the movement of water in the soil and in the interphase soil-atmosphere is widely recognised. In this paper, we analyse how soil properties, surface cover and topography influence soil moisture (theta) over karstic lithology in a sub-humid Mediterranean mountain environment. For this analysis we have used 17 months of theta measurements with a high temporal resolution from different positions on a hillslope at the main recharge area of the Campo de Dalias aquifer, in Sierra de Gador (Almeria, SE Spain). Soil properties and surface cover vary depending on the position at the hillslope, and this variability has an important effect on theta. The higher clay content towards the lower position of the hillslope explains the increase of. downslope at the subsurface horizon throughout the entire period studied. In the surface horizon (0-0.1 m), theta patterns coincide with those found at the subsurface horizon (0.1-0.35 m) during dry periods when the main control is also exerted by the higher percentage of clay that increases downslope and limits water depletion through evaporation. However, in wet periods, the wettest regime is found in the surface horizon at the upper position of the hillslope where plant cover, soil organic matter content, available water, unsaturated hydraulic conductivity (K-unsat) and infiltration rates are higher than in the lower positions. The presence of rock outcrops upslope the theta sampling area, acts as runoff sources, and subsurface flow generation between surface and subsurface horizons also may increase the differences between the upper and the lower positions of the hillslope during wet periods. Both rock and soil cracks and fissures act disconnecting surface water fluxes and reducing run-on to the lower position of the hillslope and thus they affect theta pattern as well as groundwater recharge. Understanding how terrain attributes, ground cover and soil factors interact for controlling theta pattern on karst hillslope is crucial to understand water fluxes in the vadose zone and dominant percolation mechanisms which also contribute to estimate groundwater recharge rates. Therefore, understanding of soil moisture dynamics provides very valuable information for designing rational strategies for the use and management of water resources, which is especially urgent in regions where groundwater supports human consume or key economic activities.