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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-89
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-89
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 25 Mar 2019

Research article | 25 Mar 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Estimation of Evapotranspiration and Other Soil Water Budget Components in an Irrigated Agricultural Field of a Desert Oasis, Using Soil Moisture Measurements

Zhongkai Li1,2,4, Hu Liu1,2, Wenzhi Zhao1,2, Qiyue Yang1,2, Rong Yang1,2, and Jintao Liu3 Zhongkai Li et al.
  • 1Linze Inland River Basin Research Station, Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • 2Key Laboratory of Ecohydrology of Inland River Basin, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, 730000, China
  • 3State Key Laboratory of Hydrology-Water Resources and Hydraulic Engineering, Hohai University, Nanjing 210098, China
  • 4University of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Abstract. An accurate assessment of soil water budget components (SWBCs) is necessary for improving irrigation strategies in any water-limited environment. However, quantitative information of SWBCs is usually challenging to obtain, because, since the hydrological process of farmland is principally driven by irrigation (I), drainage (D), and evapotranspiration (ET) in desert oasis settings, none of the drivers can be easily measured under actual conditions. Soil moisture is a variable that integrates the water balance components of land surface hydrology, and the evolution of soil moisture is assumed to contain the memory of antecedent hydrologic fluxes, and thus can be used to determine SWBCs from a hydrologic balance. A database of soil moisture measurements from six experimental plots with different treatments (NT1 to NT6) in the middle Heihe River Basin of China was used to test the potential of a soil moisture database in estimating the SWBCs. We first compared the hydrophysical properties of the soils in these plots, such as vertical saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ks) and soil water retention features, for supporting the SWBC estimations. Then we determined evapotranspiration and other SWBCs through a soil-moisture data-based method that combined both the soil water balance method and the inverse Richards equation. To test the accuracy of our estimation, we used both the indirect methods (such as power consumption of the pumping irrigation well), plenty of published SWBCs values at nearby sites, and the water balance equation technique to verify the estimated SWBCs values, all of which showed a good reliability of our estimation. Finally, the uncertainties of the proposed methods were analyzed to evaluate the systematic error of the SWBC estimation and the restriction for its application. The results showed significant variances among the film-mulched plots (NT2–6) in both the cumulative irrigation volumes (between 652.1 mm at NT3 and 867.3 mm at NT6) and deep drainages (between 170.7 mm at NT3 and 364.7 mm at NT6). Moreover, the unmulched plot (NT1) had remarkably higher values in both cumulative irrigation volumes (1186.5 mm) and deep drainages (651.8 mm) compared with the mulched plots. Obvious correlation existed between the volume of irrigation and that of drained water. However, the ET demands for all the plots behaved pretty much the same, with the cumulative ET values ranging between 489.1 and 561.9 mm for the different treatments in 2016, suggesting that the superfluous irrigation amounts had limited influence on the accumulated ET throughout the growing season because of the poor water-holding capacity of the sandy soil. This work confirmed that relatively reasonable estimations of the SWBCs in coarse-textured sandy soils can be derived by using soil moisture measurements; the proposed methods provided a reliable solution during the entire growing season and showed a great potential for identifying appropriate irrigation amounts and frequencies, and thus a move toward sustainable water resources management, even under traditional surface irrigation conditions.

Zhongkai Li et al.
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Short summary
A database of soil moisture measurements was used to test the potential of a soil moisture database in estimating the SWBCs. Although the planting of the past decade have significantly increased the soils' water-holding ability, the magnitude of increase in most of the parameters was independent of the treatments. Significant variances were observed among the plots in both the cumulative irrigation volumes and deep drainages, and the ET demands for all the plots behaved pretty much the same.
A database of soil moisture measurements was used to test the potential of a soil moisture...
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