Low-field NMR logging sensor for measuring hydraulic parameters of model soils

Knowing the exact hydraulic parameters of soils is very important for improving water management in agriculture and for the refinement of climate models. Up to now, however, the investigation of such parameters has required applying two techniques simultaneously which is time-consuming and invasive. Thus, the objective of this current study is to present only one technique, i.e., a new non-invasive method to measure hydraulic parameters of model soils by using low-field nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Hereby, two model clay or sandy soils were respectively filled in a 2 m-long acetate column having an integrated PVC tube. After the soils were completely saturated with water, a low-field NMR sensor was moved up and down in the PVC tube to quantitatively measure along the whole column the initial water content of each soil sample. Thereafter, both columns were allowed to drain. Meanwhile, the NMR sensor was set at a certain depth to measure the water content of that soil slice. Once the hydraulic equilibrium was reached in each of the two columns, a final moisture profile was taken along the whole column. Three curves were subsequently generated accordingly: (1) the initial moisture profile, (2) the evolution curve of the moisture depletion at that particular depth, and (3) the final moisture profile. All three curves were then inverse analyzed using a MATLAB code over numerical data produced with the van Genuchten–Mualem model. Hereby, a set of values (αnθr and θs) was found for the hydraulic parameters for the soils under research. Additionally, the complete decaying NMR signal could be analyzed through Inverse Laplace Transformation and averaged on the 1/T2 space. Through measurement of the decay in pure water, the effect on the relaxation caused by the sample could be estimated from the obtained spectra. The migration of the sample-related average 〈1/T2,Sample〉 with decreasing saturation speaks for an enhancement of the surface relaxation as the soil dries, in concordance with results found by other authors. In conclusion, this low-field mobile NMR technique has proven itself to be a fast and a non-invasive mean to investigate the hydraulic behavior of soils and to explore microscopical aspect of the water retained in them. In the future, the sensor should allow easy soil moisture measurements on-field.

Sucre, A. Pohlmeier, A. Minière, B. Blümich, Low-field NMR logging sensor for measuring hydraulic parameters of model soils, Journal of Hydrology 406 (2011) 30-38; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2011.05.045