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Summary

Knowledge of soil water repellency distribution, of factors affecting its occurrence and of its hydrological effects stems primarily from regions with a distinct dry season, whereas comparatively little is known about its occurrence in humid temperate regions such as typified by the UK. To address this research gap, we have examined: (i) water repellency persistence (determined by the water drop penetration time method, WDPT) and degree (determined by the critical surface tension method, CST) for soil samples (0–5, 10–15 and 20–25 cm depth) taken from 41 common soil and land-use types in the humid temperate climate of the UK; (ii) the supposed relationship of soil moisture, textural composition and organic matter content with sample repellency; and (iii) the bulk wetting behaviour of undisturbed surface core samples (0–5 cm depth) over a period of up to 1 week. Repellency was found in surface samples of all major soil textural types amongst most permanently vegetated sites, whereas tilled sites were virtually unaffected. Repellency levels reached those of the most severely affected areas elsewhere in the world, decreased in persistence and degree with depth and showed no consistent relationship with soil textural characteristics, organic matter or soil moisture contents, except that above a water content of c. 28% by volume, repellency was absent. Wetting rate assessments of 100 cm3 intact soil cores using continuous water contact (–20 mm pressure head) over a period of up to 7 days showed that across the whole sample range and irrespective of texture, severe to extreme repellency persistence consistently reduced the maximum water content at any given time to well below that of wettable soils. For slightly to moderately repellent soils the results were more variable and thus hydrological effects of such repellency levels are more difficult to predict. The results imply that: (i) repellency is common for many land-use types with permanent vegetation cover in humid temperate climates irrespective of soil texture; (ii) supposedly influential parameters (texture, organic matter, specific water content) are poor general predictors of water repellency, whereas land use and the moisture content below which repellency can occur seem more reliable; and (iii) infiltration and water storage capacity of very repellent soils are considerably less than for comparable wettable soils.