Field-scale surface soil moisture patterns and their relationship to topographic indices

Amy L. Kaleita, Michael C. Hirschi, Lei F. Tian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding variability patterns in soil moisture is critical for determining an optimal sampling scheme both in space and in time, as well as for determining optimal management zones for agricultural applications that involve moisture status. In this study, distributed near-surface gravimetric soil moisture samples were collected across a 3.3 ha field in central Illinois for ten dates in the summer of 2002, along with dense elevation data. Temporal stability and consistency of the moisture patterns were analyzed in order to determine a suitable grid size for mapping and management, as well as to investigate relationships between moisture patterns and topographic and soil property influences. Variogram analysis of surface moisture data revealed that the geospatial characteristics of the soil moisture patterns are similar from one date to another, which may allow for a single, rather than temporally variable, variogram to describe the spatial structure. For this field, a maximum cell size of 10 m was found to be appropriate for soil moisture studies on most of the sampling occasions. This could indicate an appropriate scale for precision farming operations or for intensive ground sampling. While some areas had consistent behavior with respect to field mean moisture content, no conclusive relationships between the overall patterns in the moisture data and the topographic and soil indices were identified. There were, however, some small but significant correlations between these two sets of data, particularly plan and tangential curvature, and also slopes. In areas of convergent flow, moisture content exhibited a slight tendency to be wetter than average. There also seemed to be a small influence of scale on the relationship between moisture patterns and topographic curvatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-564
Number of pages8
JournalTransactions of the ASABE
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2007


  • Geostatistics
  • Mapping
  • Precision agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Food Science
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science

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