Water movement and soil swelling in a dry, cracked Vertisol

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  • .Geoderma 78 1997 113123

    Water movement and soil swelling in a dry, crackedVertisol

    F. Favre a,b, P. Boivin a,), M.C.S. Wopereis ca ( )Institut Francais de Recherche Scientifique pour le Deeloppement en Cooperation ORSTOM , BP 1386,

    Dakar, Senegalb Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, IATE Pedologie, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

    c ( )West Africa Rice Deelopment Association WARDA , BP 96, St. Louis, SenegalReceived 14 November 1995; accepted 12 March 1997


    Vertisols are widely used for irrigated rice in the Senegal River Basin, where farmers areincreasingly reporting problems with soil salinization. Water movement at the onset of thegrowing season, when soils are dry and cracked, may have a large impact on soil salinity andwater economy. Water movement and soil swelling processes were studied in a dry, cracked

    Vertisol in the Senegal River Valley. Surface irrigation and simulated rainfall intensity 88 mmy1. 2 .h on cracked 2.25 m plots crack width 0.010.02 m; crack depth 0.3 m resulted in crack

    closure within 4.5 h, starting at the soil surface. Soil swelling was separated into two components: . 1 swelling of the 0.010.02 m border zone of a soil island soil mass distinctively separated by

    . .cracks , and 2 swelling of the rest of the soil island as a whole. Soil swelling was heterogeneous,with a very rapid expansion of the border zone. At the moment of crack closure, the relativecontributions of these two components to crack closure were respectively 8090% and 1020%;24 h later these percentages changed slightly only.

    Maximum bulk linear shrinkage determined at the field level was only 7%. Results indicate theimportance of rapid, local, heterogeneous swelling processes to water flow into cracked Vertisol,resulting in limited bypass flow. Use of bulk shrinkage curves and assumptions on isotropy ofshrinkage and swelling processes when modelling water and solute flow in cracked Vertisolsshould therefore be done with great care. q 1997 Elsevier Science B.V.

    Keywords: Vertisols; cracks; swelling; bypass flow; infiltration

    ) Corresponding author. E-mail: boivin@dakar.orstom.sn

    0016-7061r97r$17.00 q 1997 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. .PII S0016-7061 97 00030-X

  • ( )F. Fare et al.rGeoderma 78 1997 113123114

    1. Introduction

    The low percolation rate of Vertisols under water-saturated conditions makes thistype of soil very suitable for irrigated rice cultivation. At the onset of a rice growingseason large cracks are often visible in the field, as Vertisols shrink to form deep verticalcracks in the dry state. Upon re-wetting, soil swelling occurs due to the presence of

    .expanding clay minerals Wilding and Puentes, 1988 . Flood irrigation of cracked soil .induces rapid water flow into large cracks Mitchell and Van Genuchten, 1993 . Water

    may move downward without being absorbed into the soil matrix, similar to macroporebypass flow processes Bouma and Dekker, 1978; Bouma and De Laat, 1981; Beven and

    .Germann, 1982 . Infiltration occurs in the subsoil matrix via the bottom of the cracksand along the crack faces, a process that has been named internal catchment Van

    .Stiphout et al., 1987 . Most work on preferential flow to date has focused on soils with arelatively stable macroporosity within the range of the moisture contents studied e.g.

    .Bouma et al., 1981; Kneale and White, 1984; Van Stiphout et al., 1987 . Studies onbypass flow are often conducted on detached soil cores e.g. Bouma et al., 1981; Kneale

    .and White, 1984; Booltink and Bouma, 1991; Wopereis et al., 1994 . A majordisadvantage of this technique is the disturbance of vertical and lateral continuity of

    .macropores in the field. Recently Tuong et al. 1996 proposed a field method toquantify flow processes during land soaking of dry cracked soils. Bouma and Wosten .1984 characterized ponded infiltration in large detached blocks of dry, cracked claysoil, but limited measurements to the first 10 min of infiltration to exclude effects of soilswelling. In practice, changes in macroporosity cannot be ignored, however, if a dry,

    .cracked Vertisol is irrigated Wilding and Puentes, 1988 .Vertisols are among the major soil types present in the Senegal River Valley and

    . Delta FAOrSEDAGRI, 1973 and are widely used for irrigation approximately 70,000ha of mainly rice based cropping on both the Mauritanian and Senegalese sides of the

    . river . Farmers fields are surrounded by bunds walls of soil, about 0.25 m high and

    .wide to allow for ponding of irrigation water. Land preparation usually involves onesuperficial pass with a disk plough. Water is brought into the field from the irrigationcanal via an inlet installed in the bund. At the onset of the growing season in July,farmers fields have dried out for about 7 months and show wide and deep cracks. It isimportant to quantify the importance of bypass flow processes as a result of the presenceof such cracks on the field water balance. This is especially true for northern Senegal,where water is expensive and often the main economic constraint to irrigated riceproduction. Another constraint to irrigation in arid climates is the risk of land degrada-

    .tion due to salinization processes Valles et al., 1992 . Alarming observations of`alkalinization and salinization have been made in the Niger River Valley Bertrand et

    . .al., 1993 . Boivin et al. 1995 have expressed concern about the extent of soildegradation due to salinization, sodification and alkalinization in irrigated croppingsystems in the Senegal River Valley. Salts brought into the field with the irrigation watertend to accumulate in the topsoil, due to the high evaporation rates associated with theSahelian climate. Because of the very low percolation rate of Vertisols, bypass flow incracks at the onset of the growing season may play an important role in redistribution of

  • ( )F. Fare et al.rGeoderma 78 1997 113123 115

    salts in the soil profile. The occurrence of bypass flow under such dry soil conditionsmay, however, be limited in time as cracks may gradually close due to soil swelling.

    To our knowledge, very little information is available on the dynamics of crackclosure with time, and corresponding water distribution in the soil profile, uponre-wetting of a cracked Vertisol. Quantification of the importance of Vertisol crackingand swelling processes on water economy and soil salinity requires focused fieldexperimental work, the results of which should eventually be taken into account in waterand solute transfer simulation models. Development of alternative water managementtechniques for salinity control also require detailed studies on soil-water movement. Theobjectives of this study were to relate crack closure to water dynamics and soil swellingover time upon re-wetting of a dry cracked Vertisol and to investigate implications formodelling of water and solute flow.

    2. Materials and methods

    2.1. Site description

    The experiments were conducted in December 1994 on a non-cropped Vertisol near X X .the rice irrigation scheme of Nianga 16833 N, 14857 W , northern Senegal. The climate

    .at the study site is characterized by a wet season approximately 200 mm rainfall fromJuly to September, a cold dry season from October to February and a hot dry seasonfrom March to June. Rainfall comes in heavy showers with a maximum intensity of

    y1 . 100150 mm h Sadio, 1993 . The soil at the study site was a vertic Xerofluvent Soil.Survey Staff, 1975 and a typical topovertisol according to the French soil classifica-

    .tion system A.F.E.S., 1988 . Topography was slightly undulating, i.e. about 0.20.5 mover a distance of 20100 m. The soil surface at the elevated parts was covered with arunoff cruet, lower parts were deeply cracked.

    During the wet season, the lower parts are sometimes flooded due to direct rainfall .and virtually complete runoff from the elevated parts Favre, 1995 . Experiments were

    .sited on a small area of cracked soil 36=21 m . Cracks reached a depth of about 0.3 mand a width of 0.010.02 m. Average diameter of soil masses separated by cracks soil

    .islands was about 0.6 m.

    2.2. Soil linear shrinkage mapping

    Bulk linear soil shrinkage at different depths at the study site was determined using .the methodology of Abedine and Robinson 1971 . They measured width and depth of

    cracks intersecting a transect of 20 m. Crack width at different depths was estimatedassuming sections of cracks to be isosceles triangles. A cumulative diagram of thecracks intersecting the transect allowed them to compute bulk linear shrinkage of thesoil at different depths. We modified the Abedine and Robinson method in order tocompute bulk linear shrinkage of the soil at different depths on a regular 3=3 m grid.For each grid cell, we measured the cracks intersecting the cell borders. Crackcumulative volume and bulk linear shrinkage were then estimated and attributed to the

  • ( )F. Fare et al.rGeoderma 78 1997 113123116

    centre of each grid cell. This method tends to smoothen the estimations somewhat, asmeasurements for a cell border separating two grid cells are attributed to the centre ofboth grid cells. Maps of bulk linear shrinkage at different depths were then computed

    .using kriging Journel, 1977 .

    2.3. Experimental design

    2 .Two small representative subplots of 2.25 m of cracked soil B1, B2 were selected.Subplots were hydrologically isolated from their surroundings with metal sheets. Toinstall the sheets, a trench of 0.5 m depth was carefully dug around the plots. Care wastaken to follow boundaries of soil islands to leave the soil structure intact as far aspossible. A plaster of mud was applied to the trench wall to smooth out surfaceirregula