An accurate field method that directly measures the entire range of relevant soil water potentials for periods of months to years is not yet available. The osmotic tensiometer (OT) has the potential to fulfil these demands but is still in an early stage of development. We have designed a novel OT that should overcome several drawbacks of former designs by the use of cross-linked polymeric gel grains instead of an aqueous solution of linear chain polymers inside the porous ceramic cup. For this reason, the cup can have large pores without polymer leakage. This ensures that water exchanges rapidly with the soil, resulting in a negligible pressure lag with changing temperatures, which is the most important source of a systematic measurement error of an OT. A second reason for better performance might be the inherent elasticity of the grains which should inhibit formation of a polymer cake at the filter. To study several of the key variables of the new sensor, transient and stationary experiments were performed in an aqueous solution the temperature, salt type and salt concentration of which were varied. Under similar conditions the swelling of the polymer grains was studied in more detail. The OT that we developed responds rapidly to changes in water potential, but is very susceptible to the influence of salts. To study and minimize salt influence, swelling tests of unconfined grains are proposed in combination with tests of the OT itself.
- water potential
- soil water