How effective is information on soil-landscape units for determining spatio-temporal variability of near-surface soil moisture?

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Paolo Nasta *
Benedetto Sica
Caterina Mazzitelli
Paola Di Fiore
Ugo Lazzaro
Mario Palladino
Nunzio Romano
(*) Corresponding Author:
Paolo Nasta |


In the last decades, a growing interest in fostering advanced interdisciplinary studies is leading to the establishment of observatories in pilot catchments for long-term monitoring of hydrological variables and fluxes. Nevertheless prior to sensor network installation, this investment necessitates preliminary surveys on key-variables such as near-surface soil moisture in order to prevent risks of erronously distributing sensors by missing sufficient spatial information for understanding hydrological processes within the landatmosphere interactions. The availability of maps describing areas with similar morphological, topographical, soil, and vegetation characteristics enable preliminary surveys to be organized for capturing spatio-temporal variability of soil moisture as best as possible. The soil-landscape classification can be considered as an interesting approach for grouping mapping units with similar hydrological behavior. Therefore, we assume the soil-landscape units as hydrotopes or hydrological similar units. Six transects were established along two hillsides of the Upper Alento River catchment (southern Italy) which is a proper candidate to become a Critical Zone Observatory. In this paper we use a soil-landscape map to infer spatial and temporal dynamics of soil moisture measured along these transects, whereas quantitative analyses were obtained by using multivariate techniques. The effectiveness of available information on soil-landscape mapping units is evaluated with respect to different observed patterns of soil moisture: wetter- and drier-than average observation points belong to agricultural and forested hillslopes, respectively. Soil texture and topographical controlling factors, especially clay content and slope gradient, are found to explain approximately 70% of the observed spatial variations in soil moisture along the forested hillslopes. The spatial structure explained by the environmental controlling factors decreases to 45% in the cases of the agricultural hillslopes mainly due to perturbations induced by grazing and tillage practices.

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