Xuchao Zhu,Ruixue Cao,Mingan Shao,Yin Liang. Footprint radius of a cosmic-ray neutron probe for measuring soil-water content and its spatiotemporal variability in an alpine meadow ecosystem. Journal of Hydrology.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.01.022


Cosmic-ray neutron probes (CRNPs) have footprint radii for measuring soil-water content (SWC). The theoretical radius is much larger at high altitude, such as the northern Tibetan Plateau, than the radius at sea level. The most probable practical radius of CRNPs for the northern Tibetan Plateau, however, is not known due to the lack of SWC data in this hostile environment. We calculated the theoretical footprint of the CRNP based on a recent simulation and analyzed the practical radius of a CRNP for the northern Tibetan Plateau by measuring SWC at 113 sampling locations on 21 measuring occasions to a depth of 30 cm in a 33.5 ha plot in an alpine meadow at 4600 m a.s.l. The temporal variability and spatial heterogeneity of SWC within the footprint were then analyzed. The theoretical footprint radius was between 360 and 420 m after accounting for the influences of air humidity, soil moisture, vegetation and air pressure. A comparison of SWCs measured by the CRNP and a neutron probe from access tubes in circles with different radii conservatively indicated that the most probable experimental footprint radius was >200 m. SWC within the CRNP footprint was moderately variable over both time and space, but the temporal variability was higher. Spatial heterogeneity was weak, but should be considered in future CRNP calibrations. This study provided theoretical and practical bases for the application and promotion of CRNPs in alpine meadows on the Tibetan Plateau.