Roots Affect the Accuracy of Dual-probe Heat-pulse Method for Measuring Water Content in Plant Growth Media

in HortScience
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  • 1 1Universities Space Research Association, Division of Space Life Sciences
  • 2 2Kansas State University, Department of Agronomy

Little attention has been paid to how the presence of roots influences water content measurements obtained with water content sensors. This issue is especially important if sensors are deployed in densely rooted soil or growth media. This work addresses the impact of roots on water content measurements obtained with dual-probe heat-pulse (DPHP) sensors. In the DPHP method, the maximum temperature rise in response to heating (Tmax) is used to calculate volumetric heat capacity, which in turn is used to calculate volumetric water content. The accuracy of DPHP sensors was evaluated in unrooted and rooted 0.25–1 mm baked ceramic aggregate. For both restricted and unrestricted volumes of aggregate the presence of roots caused DPHP sensors to consistently overestimate water content by 0.05–0.09 cm3·cm-3. Measured values of Tmax were lower in the presence of roots, which resulted in overestimation of volumetric heat capacity that was attributed to the high specific heat of water contained in roots in addition to that contained within the aggregate. Differences in water content and aggregate heating between unrooted and rooted aggregate equilibrated to the same matric potential were less distinct in unrestricted volumes, where the decrease in bulk density has the offsetting effect of lowering the heat capacity. Error in water content caused by the presence of roots and changes in bulk density was estimated by developing a theoretical mixing model for volumetric heat capacity that accounted for the heat capacity of all constituents, including aggregate, water, root water, and root tissue. Predicted errors in volumetric water content due to changes in bulk density or changes in heat capacity due to roots agreed well with direct measurement.

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