Shallow Water Table Fluctuations in Relation to Soil Penetration Resistance



Hydrologic modeling of catchments is frequently hampered by lack of information on subsurface stratigraphy and zones of preferred flow. We evaluated the usefulness of soil penetration resistance, easily measured by a dynamic cone penetrometer, together with measurements of ground water level fluctuations, as a cost-effective means to infer subsurface flow patterns. At our field site at Sleepers River, Vermont, penetration resistance was lowest in the surfi-cial 10 to 30 cm, then typically increased to a local maximum at 60 to 80 cm, which we interpreted as the soil/till interface. Below this depth usually lies a zone of decreased resistance in the till, giving way to either a gradual or abrupt increase in resistance toward the bedrock surface at 1 to 4.5 m depth. Penetration resistance had a weak but significant negative correlation with saturated hydraulic conductivity determined by bail tests (r2= 0.25, p < 0.05). At many wells, monthly ground water levels tended to cluster at or just above the resistant zone near the soil/till interface. Chemical and isotopic dynamics in nested wells finished above and below the resistant zone suggest that the zone may temporarily isolate the deeper ground water reservoir from meltwater inputs, which were clearly identified by low δ18O values. In ground water discharge zones, δ18O values tended to converge throughout the profile. In contrast, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) maintained a gradient of increasing concentration toward land surface, even in otherwise well-mixed waters, reflecting its rapid release from organic horizons. Understanding the effect of soil penetration resistance on ground water behavior may be useful in future catchment modeling efforts.