Imaging of Soil Moisture in the Root Zone using Capacitively Coupled Electrodes

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Paul Newill


This research explores the use of insulated electrodes to determine electrical impedance distributions within soil cores. It is used to infer the effect of roots on soil moisture which, in turn, can provide knowledge relating to crop breeding programmes. These programmes are becoming increasingly important in order to address challenges posed by global population growth and climate change. Direct contact electrical impedance measurements in soil are frequently used but these are vulnerable to electrochemical effects and corrosion. Insulated electrodes are used in the present work to overcome these difficulties and a modified electrode model has been proposed. Measurements require the acquisition of spectroscopic complex impedance and extraction of the real impedance to infer soil moisture content. Calculated and simulated impedance, from the analytical solution and an FEM model respectively, were compared to measurements performed within a parallel-plate test cell containing saline solutions. The effects of moisture, compaction and temperature on soil impedance measurements have been explored. Finally, two growth trials using maize plants and control vessels were performed to create 2D images of impedance distributions, from which moisture placement was inferred. Results show that for saline electrolytes, the insulated electrode method was capable of estimating the impedance of tap water to within 10% of calibrated laboratory equipment. For soil based measurements, the variation of moisture content from 5-30% resulted in a 1000-fold decrease in impedance. The change was most significant in drier soils. For compaction based testing, at 5% moisture content soil impedance decreased by approximately 40%, compared to only 20% in the wettest samples. Temperature testing revealed an impedance change of approximately 2%/ °C, in agreement with earlier reports. Plant growth trials revealed increases in electrical impedance due to soil drying from an initial value of 1-2kΩ when the soil was wetted to field capacity, to as much as 60kΩ when dry. Only small changes were evident in the control vessels. It was also found that areas exposed to potential evaporation, such as at the surface closest to the plant stem, suffered significant losses in moisture content, reaching as high as 15-20kΩ. This research utilises a measurement technique which has not previously been used to measure soil impedance to infer moisture content. The research also found that the scaling of a thin layer within an FEM model can significantly reduce computational demands, while retaining accuracy, and allow more complex FEM simulations to be performed on a less powerful computer.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Trevor York (Supervisor)
Award date31 Dec 2014