Estimation of soil clay content from hygroscopic water content measurements

Mark N. Wuddivira, David A. Robinson, Inma Lebron, Laëtitia Bréchet, Melissa Atwell, Sunshine De Caires, Michael Oatham, Scott B. Jones, Hiruy Abdu, Aditya K. Verma, Markus Tuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Soil texture and the soil water characteristic are key properties used to estimate flow and transport parameters. Determination of clay content is therefore critical for understanding of plot-scale soil heterogeneity. With increasing interest in proximal soil sensing, there is the need to relate obtained signals to soil properties of interest. Inference of soil texture, especially clay mineral content, from instrument response from electromagnetic induction and radiometric methods is of substantial interest. However, the cost of soil sampling and analysis required to link proximal measurements and soil properties, for example, clay mineral content, can sometimes outweigh the benefits of using a fast proximal technique. In this paper, we propose that determination of a soil's hygroscopic water content at 50% atmospheric relative humidity (RH50), which is time and cost efficient, and particularly suitable for developing countries, can act as a useful surrogate for clay content in interpreting soil spatial patterns based on proximal signals. We used standard clays such as kaolinite, illite, and montmorillonite to determine the water release characteristic as a function of hygroscopic water content. We also determined clay content of soils from temperate (Arizona, United States) and tropical (Trinidad) regions using the hydrometer method and hygroscopic water content for soils equilibrated at RH50. We found linear dependence of clay percentage and RH50 for a range of soil mineralogies. Hygroscopic water measurements offer an inexpensive and simple way to estimate site-specific clay mineral content that in turn can be used to interpret geophysical signal data in reconnaissance surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1529-1535
Number of pages7
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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