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Surfactant effects on the water-stable aggregation of wettable soils from the continental USA


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Correspondence to: G. A. Lehrsch, Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory, USDA–Agricultural Research Service, 3793 North 3600 East, Kimberly, ID 83341–5076, USA.



Surfactants may affect soil structure differently depending upon the soil or the quality of rainfall or irrigation water. This study examined whether the water-stable aggregation of 11 wettable soils was affected by surfactants and the water in which the soils were sieved. The study also examined whether the wettable soils' water drop penetration time (WDPT) was affected by surfactants, water drop quality, and elapsed time since the surfactants were applied. Two nonionic surfactants and a surfactant-free water control were sprayed (by misting) upon air-dry soil, then WDPT was measured 1 and 72 h thereafter. Subsequently, this treated soil was slowly wetted with an aerosol to its water content at a matric potential of −3 kPa, then immediately sieved for 600 s in water that contained either appreciable or few electrolytes. Water-stable aggregation, quantified as mean weight diameter (MWD), varied widely among soils, ranging from 0.10 to 1.36 mm. The MWDs were affected (at p = 0.06) by surfactant treatments, depending upon the soil but not sieving water quality. Surfactants affected the MWD of an Adkins loamy sand and Feltham sand, two of the three coarsest-textured soils. Although WDPTs never exceeded 5 s, depending upon the soil WDPTs were affected by surfactant treatments but not by water drop quality. After surfactant application, WDPTs generally decreased with time for three soils but increased with time for one soil. Findings suggested that surfactants interacted (1) with clay mineralogy to affect MWD and (2) with soluble calcium to affect WDPT for certain soils. Surfactant treatments but not water quality affected both MWD and WDPT for some but not all of 11 wettable, US soils. Published 2012. This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.