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John S. Selker

Avoiding groundwater contamination from agricultural activities is possible only if the processes that control deep percolation are understood. The source of contaminant movement to groundwater is typically through preferential flow, processes by which the bulk soil is bypassed by some part of the infiltrating water. Three mechanisms give rise to preferential flow: fingered flow, funnel flow, and macropore flow. Fingered flow occurs in coarse-textured soils and can be minimized by starting with an initially well-wetted profile. Funnel flow is likely in layered soil profiles of silt or coarser-textured soil, in which avoiding slow overirrigation is critical. Macropore flow is observed in all structured soils in which maintaining irrigation rates well below the saturated conductivity of the soil is essential. These prescriptions are quite different than conventional recommendations, which fail to consider groundwater protection.

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Hudson Minshew, John Selker, Delbert Hemphill and Richard P. Dick

Predicting leaching of residual soil nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) in wet climates is important for reducing risks of groundwater contamination and conserving soil N. The goal of this research was to determine the potential to use easily measurable or readily available soilclimatic-plant data that could be put into simple computer models and used to predict NO3 leaching under various management systems. Two computer programs were compared for their potential to predict monthly NO3-N leaching losses in western Oregon vegetable systems with or without cover crops. The models were a statistical multiple linear regression (MLR) model and the commercially available Nitrate Leaching and Economical Analysis Package model (NLEAP 1.13). The best MLR model found using stepwise regression to predict annual leachate NO3-N had four independent variables (log transformed fall soil NO3-N, leachate volume, summer crop N uptake, and N fertilizer rate) (P < 0.001, R 2 = 0.57). Comparisons were made between NLEAP and field data for mass of NO3-N leached between the months of September and May from 1992 to 1997. Predictions with NLEAP showed greater correlation to observed data during high-rainfall years compared to dry or averagerainfall years. The model was found to be sensitive to yield estimates, but vegetation management choices were limiting for vegetable crops and for systems that included a cover crop.

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Shaun F. Kelly, J.L Green and John S. Selker

Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) is used to measure in situ soil moisture content and salinity of porous media. Commercially available TDR systems used for field measurements have limited use in laboratory scale experiments where short high resolution probes are needed. A short TDR probe was designed for use with high bandwidth TDR instruments currently available. The probes are designed from SMA bulkhead connectors using gold-plated stainless steel wire 0.035 inches in diameter. A 20.GHz digital sampling oscilloscope (11801; Tektronix, Beaverton, Ore.) with an SD-24 TDR sampling head is used with the probes to determine water content and ion concentrations in porous media. The 7.5- and 3.0-cm-long probes were used to measure soil moisture content and ion concentrations in laboratory columns. Fertilizer and water gradients were observed by using bromide salts brought into contact with the top of laboratory columns, 7.6 cm in diameter and 18 cm long, packed with container media [1 peat: 1 vermiculite v/v)]. Soil moisture measurements in the presence of high concentrations of salts were made by insulating the probes with Teflon heat-shrinkable tubing to minimize conductivity losses.

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Shaun F. Kelly, James L. Green and John S. Selker

The process of fertilizer diffusion was examined using KBr and NaBr salts placed at the top of columns filled with a container medium at an initial water content of 4.0, 2.5, or 1.0 g·g-1 (mass of water/mass of medium). Columns were sealed to create a protected diffusion zone (PDZ) shielding the system from water infiltration and evaporation. Bromide and water distributions were determined after 5, 10, 25, and 120 days. Using a Fickian diffusion model, effective diffusion coefficients calculated for Br- in the medium at 2.5 g·g-1 ranged from 2.7 to 4.6 × 10-6 cm2·s-1, which is 3 to 9 times less than the diffusion coefficient in water alone. Diffusion rates increased with increasing medium water content. Differences in the hygroscopicity and solubility of KBr and NaBr affected the distribution of water and diffusion rates in the columns. Redistribution of water was driven to a significant degree by vapor-phase transport, caused by large gradients in osmotic potential, and was most apparent at low water content. At high water content, water redistribution was affected by solution density gradients in the system. This significantly complicates the mathematical modeling of the system, which renders a simple Fickian diffusion model of limited predictive value in high and low water content media.