Zeolite application for enhancing water infiltration and retention in loess soil

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Resources, Conservation and Recycling34 (2001) 4552Zeolite application for enhancing waterinfiltration and retention in loess soilHe Xiubin *, Huang ZhanbinInstitute of Soil and Water Conseration, Chinese Academy of Sciences,Yangling Shaanxi 712100, Peoples Republic of ChinaReceived 16 June 2001; accepted 6 July 2001AbstractZeolite is a relative abounded mineral resource. Its distinguished properties on cationexchange capacity (CEC), free structural water storage and surface adsorption have a greatpotential application on soil ameliorating. The present research applied the zeolite powder inthe fine-grained calcareous loess soil, and compared rainfall infiltration and soil waterretention of the normal soil with these of treated soil both in laboratory and field. The resultsshow that soil treated with zeolite, compared with the normal soil, could increase infiltrationby 730% on gentle slope land and more than 50% on steep slope land. In addition, thetreated soil could increase soil moisture by 0.41.8% in the extreme drought condition, and515% in general situation. Consequently, it can reduce overland flow (surface runoff) andprotect soil from erosion. And furthermore, can regulate water supply for crops in severedrought conditions. Thus, zeolite has special properties that can be potentially applied towater efficient use for dryland farming. But some technological aspects need scientificinvestigation and experiment before it puts into broad implementation. 2001 ElsevierScience B.V. All rights reserved.Keywords: Zeolite application; Infiltration; Water retention; Loess soilwww.elsevier.com/locate/resconrec1. IntroductionThe water consumption by agriculture accounts for most part of water resourcesin the continents. Specially, in the arid and semi-arid areas of the world, it* Corresponding author. Tel.: +86-29-7011861; fax: +86-29-7012210.E-mail address: hexiubin@yahoo.com (H. Xiubin).0921-3449/01/$ - see front matter 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.PII: S0921 -3449 (01 )00094 -5H. Xiubin, H. Zhanbin / Resources, Conseration and Recycling 34 (2001) 455246accounts, for example, for more than 80% of the total water consumption in thenorthwestern China (Earth Science Division of CAS, 1998). And most part of waterfor agriculture is originated from rainfall. The uneven distribution of rainfall withinyear or between years leads to unstable production of agriculture because of lack ofwater supply. On the other hand, the low soil water infiltration and the highintensity of rainstorm usually produce large amount of overland flow (surfacerunoff), leading to severe soil erosion and nutrient loss, and consequently, leadingto land degradation (Mathur, 1991; He Xiubin, 1995). Therefore, rational using ofrainfall does not only lessen the pressure of water shortage, but also benefits thesustainable development of agriculture. In response to these concerns, there havebeen increasing efforts to develop improved measures to increase infiltrationcomponent of rainfall and decrease the runoff (Rawls et al., 1991).Soil conditioner is one of the examples. The first chemical soil conditioner wasdeveloped in 1951 and reported in a special edition of Soil Science in 1952 (Bear,1952). Since then, a number of soil conditionals have been marketed. But not allwere effective and most of the successful ones were often too expensive to beapplied in dryland farming (Aagassi et al., 1990; Azzam, 1980). However, before1990s, the soil conditioners were, in fact, a kind of physical soil conditioner, whichmainly focused on the improvement aggregate ability and aggregate-forming pro-cesses, although the mechanism of conditioner and soil inactions were not fullyunderstood. Recent soil conditioner research has directly addressed the effect of soilconditioners on water infiltration, soil erosion and crop performance (Ben-Hur andKeren, 1997; Bowyer-Bower and Bun, 1989; Brandsma, 1997). At the same time,many papers have been published in improved application techniques at lower costs(Aagassi et al., 1990; Ben-Hur et al., 1989). Unfortunately, all the researches haveapplied the artificial chemical materials for the conditioner development, whereasfew attempted to apply the natural ones.Zeolite is a complicated silicate mineral. But it is different from other silicatemineral by spacious pores and channels within its crystal structure. The silicatetetrahedron (SiO4) is a compromise between electrical neutrality and packingefficiency. To form electrically neutral, stable minerals require other positivelycharged accessory cations. This need for electrical neutrality and accessory cationsleads to the important property of cation exchange capacity. The zeolite in naturalcondition is combined with cations such as Na+, K+, Ca2+ and etc. (Dana, 1977;Navrotsky et al., 1995). It generally has three distinguished properties (Sand andMumpton, 1978): one is great high cation exchange capacity (CEC; ten times morethan that of soil); the other is large amount of free water in the structural channels;and the third is high ability of adsorption (with surface area of about 1150.5 m2/g).These properties have been widely used in inorganic membrane science andtechnology (Burggrafand and Cot, 1996; Yardley, 2000). Recently these propertieshave been applied to environmental science, such as improving water quality(Pirtola et al., 1998) and ameliorating soil (Pan Genxing et al., 1991; Booker et al.,1996; Haidouti, 1997).The present experimental research aims to use zeolite as a soil conditioner toincrease rainfall infiltration into the soil, enhance soil water storage capacity, andH. Xiubin, H. Zhanbin / Resources, Conseration and Recycling 34 (2001) 4552 47bring some sights on efficiently using of rainfall and regulating water supply forcrops.2. Materials2.1. Zeolite sampleThe zeolite mineral sample is taken from natural zeolite mine. The zeoliteaccounts for about 69% of the total mine material, which is mainly a kind ofmordenite. The sample was abraded into powder, and passed through a 0.25 mmsieve (Pan Genxing et al., 1991). The chemical composition and some fundamentalproperties of zeolite powder are shown in Table 1.2.2. Soil for experimentThe soil in the laboratory and field are the fine-grained calcareous loess soil. Thesoil organic content was measured as 0.76% by weight, and calcium carbonate(CaCO3) was measured as 8.1%. The texture of these soils is shown in Fig. 1 andFig. 2. The content of 0.050.01 mm fraction is very high, accounting for 46%, andthe clay fraction (0.002 mm) accounts for 24%. Other properties and detaildescription of the soil can refer to Agriculture And Soil On The Loess Plateauwritten by Zhu Xianmo (1989). In the laboratory, soil was prepared by removinggrass turfs and leveling the surface.Table 1The Chemical composition and some related properties of zeolite powder. The net zeolite accounts for69%, 92% of which is mordeniteIndices of propertiesa Chemical composition (%)pH 7.8 SiO2 66.05CEC (meq/100 g) Al2O3136.35 12.11Exchangeable K (meq/100 g) 7.12 Na2O 2.12Exchangeable Na (meq/100 g) CaO47.55 3.86Exchangeable Ca (meq/100 g) 1.10K2O46.89H2O 13.290.54Exchangeable Mg (meq/100 g)Soluble Si (ppm) 474.53 MgO 0.89121.32Saturation water content (%) MnO 0.32P2O5Capillary water content (%) 0.1787.11Fe2O3 0.11The powder contents the grains with diameter less than 0.25 mma All data based on n=12 readings.H. Xiubin, H. Zhanbin / Resources, Conseration and Recycling 34 (2001) 455248Fig. 1. Texture of soil for the experiment in the laboratory.3. MethodThis research experiment was conducted in microplots in the laboratory withartificial rainfall, and then extended to plots in the field. In the laboratory,aluminum microplots (0.28 m2) were prepared to fill with normal soil and thezeolite-treated soil. A laboratory computer-based rainfall simulator was used. Themicorplots were exposed to a constant rainfall intensity of 2.00 mm/min for anhour under different slope degrees (5, 10, 20). There were three replicated plotsand two replications of rainfall events under each case of slope degree. The runoffamount was measured in the outlets of the microplots. The infiltration componentof rainfall was calculated by the Eq. (1):Ft=PtRt (1)Where Ft is the infiltration amount; Rt is the runoff amount; and Pt is theprecipitation.Fig. 2. Some properties of experimental soil profile in the field.H. Xiubin, H. Zhanbin / Resources, Conseration and Recycling 34 (2001) 4552 49Table 2Rainfall partitioning in the normal soil and treated soil at the laboratoryTreatments Infiltration amount of theSlope (degrees) Time of runoff Sediment (kg)first 30 min (mm) beginning (min)5 26.50Normal 0.04655.5828.33** 0.009***59.53**With zeolite21.50 0.06410 Normal 41.9626.42 0.015***54.70**With zeolite20 19.22 8.42 0.117Normal12.56** 0.029***29.11**With zeoliteThe microplots size is 0.4-m long and 0.7-m wide. The rainfall intensity was 2 mm/min. Results basedon 3 samples for each plot (three replications) in every rainfall event (two replications), totaling 18readings. Significance of results as compared to normal plots, determined using Students t-test.In the field, two plots (1.57.5 m2) were designated under natural climaticcondition with the slope degree of 15, the surface soil is bare fallow. One was thenormal soil; the other was treated with zeolite. The precipitation and runoff wereobserved. The infiltration component of rainfall was calculated by the Eq. (1).4. Results and discussion4.1. Effects on rainfall infiltrationTable 2 shows, in the laboratory, the soil water infiltration of the zeolite-treatedsoil was greatly increased by 730% on gentle slope and more than 50% on steepslope, with all significantly different from the normal plots at P0.01. And thetreated soil could reduce sediment by 85% on the gentle slope and 50% on steepslope, with all results significantly different from the normal soil at P0.001.Whereas, the treated soil did greatly delay the beginning time of runoff at the slopedegrees of 5 and 20, but no significant difference from the control, probably causedby high standard deviations.In the field, the effect of zeolite on rainfall infiltration was also obviously thesame (Table 3). Consequently, soil erosion was reduced. And the effect on rainfallinfiltration was more significant with the higher intensity of rainfall.4.2. Effects on soil moistureIn the laboratory, after each simulating rainfall, two soil samples were taken ineach microplot. The samples were dried at the temperature of 40 C in oven. Theirwater releasing processes were recorded as Fig. 3. It shows the water releasingfollowed the same law with the time, but water content in the zeolite-treated soilwas higher than that of the normal soil during the whole period, and thezeolite-treated soil released water more rapidly than the normal soil. This meansH. Xiubin, H. Zhanbin / Resources, Conseration and Recycling 34 (2001) 455250Table 3Rainfall partitioning in the normal soil and treated soil in the field, the plot size is 1.5-m wide and7.5-m long, the slope degree is 15Average intensity ofTreatments Precipitation Runoff (mm) Infiltration (mm)rainfall (mm/min) (mm)1.81 40.31 20.96 19.34Fallow40.31 18.021.81 22.29Fallow and withzeoliteFallow 20.12 15.98 4.143.04Fallow and with 20.123.04 12.39 7.73zeolite8.112.63 4.2912.40FallowFallow and with 12.402.63 5.46 6.94zeolitewater in the treated soil can be more readily adsorbed by crops. In the field, cationexchangeable capacity (CEC) of the treated soil was higher than that in the normalsoil. The treated soil could increase soil moisture by 0.41.8% in the droughtcondition (Table 4), and 515% in general situation. Further more can regulatewater supply for crops, the fertility of loess soil depends on, or at least, closelyrelates to water availability (soil water regime) (Peng Lin, 1999).5. ConclusionZeolite is a relative abounded mineral resource. Its distinguished properties oncation exchange capacity (CEC), free structural water storage and surface adsorp-tion have a great potential application on soil ameliorating. The results in thepresent paper show soil treated with zeolite, compared with the normal soil, couldincrease infiltration by 730% on gentle slope land and more than 35% on steepslope land. In addition, the treated soil could increase soil moisture by 0.41.8% inthe extreme drought condition, and 515% in general situation.Fig. 3. Soil water releasing processes of the normal soil and zeolite-treated soil at temperature of 40 C.H. Xiubin, H. Zhanbin / Resources, Conseration and Recycling 34 (2001) 4552 51Table 4Changes of soil moisture in field under a drought condition (19981999)9 November 25 December23 October 16 JanuarySampling date 1 February19991998 199919981998Soil moisture (%)a5.60.8 4.00.513.52.6Normal soil7.61.5Soil with zeolite 6.30.716.73.9 (cmol/Kg)Normal soil 6.89 6.546.778.36 8.238.01Soil with zeolitea Data are means 1 S.E. (n=6).The zeolite does not only have large amount of water storage capacity, but alsocan improve the ability of water storage of the soil. In addition, it can reduceoverland flow (surface runoff) and protect soil from erosion. Furthermore it canregulate water supply for crops, for the fertility of loess soil depends on wateravailability. Therefore, zeolite has special properties that can be potentially appliedto water efficient use in agriculture. But some technological aspects such asapplication rates and methods need scientific investigation and experiment before itis put into broad implementation.AcknowledgementsThis research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China(Grant No. 49901012). The authors are grateful to Prof. Zhu Xianmo for hisconstructive comments and suggestions on this research, to Prof. Lei Xiangyi forkindly providing the zeolite sample, to Mr Jiang Shumeng for assistance in artificialrainfall operation, to anonymous referees for improvements to an earlier version ofthis paper.ReferencesAagassi M, Shainberg A, Morin J. Slope aspect and phosphogvpsum effects on runoff and erosion. SoilScience Society of America Journal 1990;54:11026.Azzam RAI. Agricultural polymers-poly-acrylamide preparation, application and prospects in soilconditioning. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 1980;11:767834.Bear FE. Soil Science 1952;73:41995.Ben-Hur A, Paris MJ, Malik M, Letter J. 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