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Assessment of physical and hydrological properties of biological soil crusts using X-ray microtomography and modeling

Menon, M. and Yuan, Q. and Jia, X. and Dougill, A.J. and Hoon, Steve R. and Thomas, A.D. and Williams, R.A. (2011) Assessment of physical and hydrological properties of biological soil crusts using X-ray microtomography and modeling. ISSN 0022-1694

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Abstract

Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are formed by aggregates of soil particles and communities of microbial organisms and are common in all drylands. The role of BSCs on infiltration remains uncertain due to the lack of data on their role in affecting soil physical properties such as porosity and structure. Quantitative assessment of these properties is primarily hindered by the fragile nature of the crusts. Here we show how the use of a combination of non-destructive imaging X-ray microtomography (XMT) and Lattice Boltzmann method (LBM) enables quantification of key soil physical parameters and the modeling of water flow through BSCs samples from Kalahari Sands, Botswana. We quantify porosity and flow changes as a result of mechanical disturbance of such a fragile cyanobacteria-dominated crust. Results show significant variations in porosity between different types of crusts and how they affect the flow and that disturbance of a cyanobacteria-dominated crust results in the breakdown of larger pore spaces and reduces flow rates through the surface layer. We conclude that the XMT–LBM approach is well suited for study of fragile surface crust samples where physical and hydraulic properties cannot be easily quantified using conventional methods.

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