Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (Jan 2022)

Technical note: High-accuracy weighing micro-lysimeter system for long-term measurements of non-rainfall water inputs to grasslands

  • A. Riedl,
  • Y. Li,
  • J. Eugster,
  • N. Buchmann,
  • W. Eugster

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 26
pp. 91 – 116


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Non-rainfall water (NRW), defined here as dew, hoar frost, fog, rime, and water vapour adsorption, might be a relevant water source for ecosystems, especially during summer drought periods. These water inputs are often not considered in ecohydrological studies, because water amounts of NRW events are rather small and therefore difficult to measure. Here we present a novel micro-lysimeter (ML) system and its application which allows us to quantify very small water inputs from NRW during rain-free periods with an unprecedented high accuracy of ±0.25 g, which corresponds to ±0.005 mm water input. This is possible with an improved ML design paired with individual ML calibrations in combination with high-frequency measurements at 3.3 Hz and an efficient low-pass filtering to reduce noise level. With a set of ancillary sensors, the ML system furthermore allows differentiation between different types of NRW inputs, i.e. dew, hoar frost, fog, rime, and the combinations among these, but also additional events when condensation on leaves is less probable, such as water vapour adsorption events. In addition, our ML system design allows one to minimize deviations from natural conditions in terms of canopy and soil temperatures, plant growth, and soil moisture. This is found to be a crucial aspect for obtaining realistic NRW measurements in short-statured grasslands. Soil temperatures were higher in the ML compared to the control, and thus further studies should focus on improving the thermal soil regime of ML. Our ML system has proven to be useful for high-accuracy, long-term measurements of NRW on short-statured vegetation-like grasslands. Measurements with the ML system at a field site in Switzerland showed that NRW input occurred frequently, with 127 events over 12 months with a total NRW input of 15.9 mm. Drainage-water flow of the ML was not measured, and therefore the NRW inputs might be conservative estimates. High average monthly NRW inputs were measured during summer months, suggesting a high ecohydrological relevance of NRW inputs for temperate grasslands.