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Name: Peter d'E.
Status: other
Age: 50s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2001

How does moisture content in soil affect the soil temperature?


Water has a very different thermal conductivity than most soil particles and air (the thermal properties of the soil are determined by these three). The thermal conductivity of water is much greater than that of air, so the higher the soil moisture content the greater the thermal conductivity.

The greater the soil moisture content, the more the soil thermal conductivity is like that of water. Therefore, a saturated soil has a conductivity near that of water.

However, just because the soil moisture content is high, doesn't mean that the soil will warm up faster in the Sun than a dry soil. Evaporation of the water will remove much of the Sun's energy before the soil will have a chance to warm.

Therefore, dry soils do warm up faster from sunlight and cool faster at night. This is assuming that there isn't a vegetation cover over the soil. Most wet soils evaporate the water, keeping the soil from warming as fast during the day, and cool more slowly at night because of their greater heat capacity (because of the higher water content).

Soils that are better at holding water in them (reducing evaporation), such as clays and peat, are the exception to the above; they may not evaporate as much water and therefore do heat up in the sun, and do not loose as much energy at night. Peat bogs are often very warm, although part of that energy comes from rapidly occurring rotting of organic matter. Wet clays can also become very warm in the Sun.

David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory

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