Analysis of soil wetting and solute transport in subsurface trickle irrigation

C.M. Cote, Keith Bristow, P.B. Charlesworth, F.J. Cook, P.J. Thorburn

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    276 Citations (Scopus)


    The increased use of trickle or drip irrigation is seen as one way of helping to improve the sustainability of irrigation systems around the world. However, soil water and solute transport properties and soil profile characteristics are often not adequately incorporated in the design and management of trickle systems. In this paper, we describe results of a simulation study designed to highlight the impacts of soil properties on water and solute transport from buried trickle emitters. The analysis addresses the influence of soil hydraulic properties, soil layering, trickle discharge rate, irrigation frequency, and timing of nutrient application on wetting patterns and solute distribution. We show that (1) trickle irrigation can improve plant water availability in medium and low permeability fine-textured soils, providing that design and management are adapted to account for their soil hydraulic properties, (2) in highly permeable coarse-textured soils, water and nutrients move quickly downwards from the emitter, making it difficult to wet the near surface zone if emitters are buried too deep, and (3) changing the fertigation strategy for highly permeable coarse-textured soils to apply nutrients at the beginning of an irrigation cycle can maintain larger amounts of nutrient near to and above the emitter, thereby making them less susceptible to leaching losses. The results demonstrate the need to account for differences in soil hydraulic properties and solute transport when designing irrigation and fertigation management strategies. Failure to do this will result in inefficient systems and lost opportunities for reducing the negative environmental impacts of irrigation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)143-156
    Number of pages14
    JournalIrrigation Science
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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