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Experimental study on unfrozen water content and soil matric potential of Qinghai-Tibetan silty clay

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Abstract

A new soil moisture content sensor coupled with a new matric potential sensor that can operate in the subfreezing environment was used to measure the moisture content and soil matric potential dynamics of Qinghai-Tibetan silty clay. Combined with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technique and thermal resistor temperature probe, the characteristics of unfrozen water content and soil matric potential, and their relationships with temperature were analyzed. The results show that initial water content has an impact on the freezing point and unfrozen water content. The decrease in the initial water content results in a depression in the freezing point. The Qinghai-Tibetan silty clay has more similar unfrozen water content characteristic to clay than to silt. There is approximately 3% of unfrozen water content retained when the soil temperature drops to −15°C. The change of soil matric potential with temperature is similar to that of the unfrozen water content. The matric potential value of the saturated silty clay is approximately −200 kPa when the soil temperature drops to −20°C. The measured matric potentials are significantly lower than the calculated theoretical values based on the freezing point depression. Moisture migration experiment indicates that soil matric potential controls the direction of moisture movement and moisture redistribution (including ice and liquid water) during the soil freezing.

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Acknowledgments

The research project was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 40801026), the 100 Young Talents project granted to Dr. Zhi Wen, the CAS Western Project Program (Grant No. KZCX2-XB2-10), the Program for Innovative Research Group of National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 40821001), the CAS Knowledge Innovation Key Directional Project (Grant No. KZCX2-YW-QN307), and Funds of the State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soils Engineering, CAS (Grant No. SKLFSE-ZY-02).

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Correspondence to Zhi Wen.

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Wen, Z., Ma, W., Feng, W. et al. Experimental study on unfrozen water content and soil matric potential of Qinghai-Tibetan silty clay. Environ Earth Sci 66, 1467–1476 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-011-1386-0

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