Consequences of using different soil texture determination methodologies for soil physical quality and unsaturated zone time lag estimates

Owen Fenton, Sara Vero, Tristan Ibrahim, Paul Murphy, Sophie Sherriff, Daire Ó hUallacháin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    Elucidation of when the loss of pollutants, below the rooting zone in agricultural landscapes, affects water quality is important when assessing the efficacy of mitigation measures. Investigation of this inherent time lag (tT) is divided into unsaturated (tu) and saturated (ts) components. The duration of these components relative to each other differs depending on soil characteristics and the landscape position. The present field study focuses on tu estimation in a scenario where the saturated zone is likely to constitute a higher proportion of tT. In such instances, or where only initial breakthrough (IBT) or centre of mass (COM) is of interest, utilisation of site and depth specific “simple” textural class or actual sand–silt–clay percentages to generate soil water characteristic curves with associated soil hydraulic parameters is acceptable. With the same data it is also possible to estimate a soil physical quality (S) parameter for each soil layer which can be used to infer many other physical, chemical and biological quality indicators. In this study, hand texturing in the field was used to determine textural classes of a soil profile. Laboratory methods, including hydrometer, pipette and laser diffraction methods were used to determine actual sand–silt–clay percentages of sections of the same soil profile. Results showed that in terms of S, hand texturing resulted in a lower index value (inferring a degraded soil) than that of pipette, hydrometer and laser equivalents. There was no difference between S index values determined using the pipette, hydrometer and laser diffraction methods. The difference between the three laboratory methods on both the IBT and COM stages of tu were negligible, and in this instance were unlikely to affect either groundwater monitoring decisions, or to be of consequence from a policy perspective. When tu estimates are made over the full depth of the vadose zone, which may extend to several metres, errors resulting from the use of hydraulic parameters generated from hand texture data will be resultantly greater, and may lead to flawed predictions regarding the achievability of water policy targets. For this reason laboratory analysis, regardless of method, should be preferred to simple field assessments.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)16-24
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
    Early online date29 Jul 2015
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


    • Groundwater
    • Hydrometer
    • Hydrus 1D
    • Laser
    • Pipette
    • Soil quality
    • Texture
    • Time lag

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Environmental Chemistry
    • Water Science and Technology


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