Soil water content monitoring for irrigation management: A geostatistical analysis

J. Burdette Barker, Trenton E. Franz, Derek M. Heeren, Christopher M.U. Neale, Joe D. Luck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


With the increasing attention to site-specific or variable rate irrigation management, it is helpful to reconsider the quantity and placement of soil water monitoring locations in this context. Volumetric soil water content (θv) was monitored using a neutron probe (NP) at 72 locations in a center pivot irrigated field in eastern Nebraska. Variance reduction and temporal stability analyses were performed on θv from shallow (∼top 46 cm) and full profile (∼122 cm) readings for four monitoring cycles in the 2015 growing season and 2016 preseason. Eleven additional cycles were included for a subset of the data for the temporal stability analysis. The spatial correlation scale for θv was found to be less than the closest spacing of monitoring locations in the study (i.e. <37 m). For this field site, approximately three neutron probe monitoring locations were required to determine mean soil water depletion (±2 cm) for the field or for a management zone. Little economy would be gained in variance reduction for areal mean θv from using a stratified network for management areas of reasonable size in a center pivot irrigated field. Temporally stable monitoring locations were identified. However, relatively low-cost spatial predictor variables, including elevation, deviation from mean elevation, apparent electrical conductivity, and mean relative difference of interpolated cosmic ray neutron probe surveys, were not consistent predictors of NP mean relative difference. The small range of variability of θv within the study field is thought to be a contributing factor. It is possible that for fields with similar variability, or for site-specific irrigation where zones have been selected to reduce within-zone variance, that sensor quantity is more important than sensor placement in quantifying the areal mean θv for irrigation management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-49
Number of pages14
JournalAgricultural Water Management
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Cosmic ray neutron probe
  • Monitoring locations
  • Soil water content
  • Temporal stability
  • Variable rate irrigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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