Interpretation of electrical conductivity measurements from ceramic suction cups, wetting front detectors and ECH2O-TE sensors

24 May 2012

Electrical conductivity (EC) measurements are often used to identify and address soil salinity issues in irrigated cropping systems. In this study, measurements of soil solution EC (EC-sol) collected in ceramic suction cups (SCs), wetting front EC (EC-wf) collected in Fullstop wetting front detectors (WFDs) and soil bulk EC (EC-bulk) measurements made using ECH2O-TE sensors and converted to EC-sol, were compared. As a result of different methods of measurement and different components of soil waterflow being sampled, variations in EC measurement between SCs and WFDs were observed. EC-sol was usually higher than EC-wf, as expected for this system, due to incomplete mixing between the draining and resident soil water during infiltration. For periods of high solute leaching, however, the opposite can occur, indicating that WFDs are sampling when solutes are first mobilised at the beginning of the leaching event. The ECH2O-TE sensors were less effective in measuring the short-term EC dynamics but were able to detect general changes in soil salinity. This could reflect difficulties estimating soil EC-sol from measured EC-bulk, especially at low soil water contents. Each of these instruments show good potential for application to guide salinity management practices, but a more detailed study on a range of soils subjected to different watering regimes is needed to further improve interpretation of EC measurements and their application.