Sensing with boots and trousers — qualitative field observations of shallow soil moisture patterns


Michael Rinderer, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstr. 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.



While soil moisture patterns can be interesting traits to investigate spatio-temporal heterogeneity of catchments relevant for various physical processes of soil–atmosphere interaction and soil water redistribution, many of the existing methods to capture spatial patterns are time consuming, expensive or need site-specific calibration. In this study we present a quick and inexpensive supplementary field method for classifying soil wetness in wet environments. The seven wetness classes are based on qualitative indicators, which one can touch, hear or see on the soil surface. To counter critics that such qualitative methods are considerably affected by subjectivity, we performed systematic testing of the method by taking qualitative measurements in the field with 20 non-expert raters. We then analyzed these in terms of degree of agreement and assessed the results against gravimetric sampling and time domain reflectometry measurements. In 70% of all classifications raters agreed on the wetness class assigned to the marked sampling locations and in 95% they were not off by more than one wetness class. The seven quantitative wetness classes agreed with gravimetric and time domain reflectometry measurements, although intermediate to wet classes showed an overlap of their range whereas the driest classes showed considerable spread. Despite some potential to optimize the method, it has been shown to be a reliable supplement to existing quantitative techniques for assessing soil moisture patterns in wet environments. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.