Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #320100

Title: A protocol for collecting and constructing soil core lysimeters

item Saporito, Louis - Lou
item Bryant, Ray
item Kleinman, Peter

Submitted to: Journal of Visualized Experiments
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/10/2015
Publication Date: 6/6/2016
Citation: Saporito, L.S., Bryant, R.B., Kleinman, P.J. 2016. A protocol for collecting and constructing soil core lysimeters. Journal of Visualized Experiments. 112. doi: 10.3791/53952.

Interpretive Summary: The study of nutrient leaching through soils is key to understanding how agricultural management affects ground water quality. We document the use of one important method, soil core lysimeters, with an eye to transferring specific protocols to an ever-growing audience of students and researchers. The detailed protocols that are provided are expected to expand the use of this important research tool.

Technical Abstract: Leaching of nutrients from land applied fertilizers and manure used in agriculture can lead to accelerated eutrophication of surface water. Because the landscape has complex and varied soil morphology, an accompanying disparity in flow paths for leachate through the soil macropore and matrix structure is present. The rate of flow through these paths is further affected by antecedent soil moisture. Lysimeters are used to quantify flow rate, volume of water and concentration of nutrients leaching downward through soils. While many lysimeter designs exist, accurately determining the volume of water and mass balance of nutrients is best accomplished with bounded lysimeters that leave the natural soil structure intact. Here we present a detailed method for the extraction and construction of soil core lysimeters equipped with soil moisture sensors at 5 cm and 25 cm depths. Lysimeters from four different Coastal Plain soils (Bojac, Evesboro, Quindocqua and Sassafras) were collected on the Delmarva Peninsula. Soils were irrigated once weekly with the equivalent of 2 cm of rainfall to draw down soil nitrate-N concentrations. At the end of the draw down period, poultry litter was applied (162 kg TN/ha) and leaching was resumed for an additional five weeks. Total recovery of applied irrigation water varied from 71% to 85%. Nitrate-N concentration varied over the course of the study from an average of 27.1 mg/L before litter application to 40.3 mg/L following litter application. While greatest flux of nutrients was measured in soils dominated by coarse sand (Sassafras) the greatest immediate flux occurred from the finest textured soil with pronounced macropore development (Quindocqua).