Development of an experimental approach to study coupled soil-plant-atmosphere processes using plant analogs Academic Article uri icon


  • 2017. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. The atmosphere, soils, and vegetation near the land-atmosphere interface are in a state of continuous dynamic interaction via a myriad of complex interrelated feedback processes which collectively, remain poorly understood. Studying the fundamental nature and dynamics of such processes in atmospheric, ecological, and/or hydrological contexts in the field setting presents many challenges; current experimental approaches are an important factor given a general lack of control and high measurement uncertainty. In an effort to address these issues and reduce overall complexity, new experimental design considerations (two-dimensional intermediate-scale coupled wind tunnel-synthetic aquifer testing using synthetic plants) for studying soil-plant-atmosphere continuum soil moisture dynamics are introduced and tested in this study. Validation of these experimental considerations, particularly the adoption of synthetic plants, is required prior to their application in future research. A comparison of three experiments with bare soil surfaces or transplanted with a Stargazer lily/limestone block was used to evaluate the feasibility of the proposed approaches. Results demonstrate that coupled wind tunnel-porous media experimentation, used to simulate field conditions, reduces complexity, and enhances control while allowing fine spatial-temporal resolution measurements to be made using state-of-the-art technologies. Synthetic plants further help reduce system complexity (e.g., airflow) while preserving the basic hydrodynamic functions of plants (e.g., water uptake and transpiration). The trends and distributions of key measured atmospheric and subsurface spatial and temporal variables (e.g., soil moisture, relative humidity, temperature, air velocity) were comparable, showing that synthetic plants can be used as simple, idealized, nonbiological analogs for living vegetation in fundamental hydrodynamic studies.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Trautz, A. C., Illangasekare, T. H., Rodriguez-Iturbe, I., Heck, K., & Helmig, R.

citation count

  • 6

complete list of authors

  • Trautz, Andrew C||Illangasekare, Tissa H||Rodriguez-Iturbe, Ignacio||Heck, Katharina||Helmig, Rainer

publication date

  • April 2017