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Water hits and sticks: Findings challenge a century of assumptions about soil hydrology
Date:1/21/2010

es is essentially separate and almost never intermingles with that used by plants during the dry summer.

The study found in one test, for instance, that after the first large rainstorm in October, only 4 percent of the precipitation entering the soil ended up in the stream 96 percent was taken up and held tightly by soil around plants to recharge soil moisture. A month later when soil moisture was fully recharged, 55 percent of precipitation went directly into streams. And as winter rains continue to pour moisture into the ground, almost all of the water that originally recharged the soil around plants remains held tightly in the soil it never moves or mixes.

"This tells us that we have a less complete understanding of how water moves through soils, and is affected by them, than we thought we did," said Renee Brooks, a research plant physiologist with the EPA and courtesy faculty in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

"Our mathematical models of ecosystem function are based on certain assumptions about biological processes," Brooks said. "This changes some of those assumptions. Among the implications is that we may have to reconsider how other things move through soils that we are interested in, such as nutrients or pollutants."

The new findings were made possible by advances in the speed and efficiency of stable isotope analyses of water, which allowed scientists to essentially "fingerprint" water and tell where it came from and where it moved to. Never before was it possible to make so many isotopic measurements and get a better view of water origin and movement, the researchers said.

The study also points out the incredible ability of plants to take up water that is so tightly bound to the soil, with forces nothing else in nature can match.


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Contact: Jeff McDonnell
jeff.mcdonnell@oregonstate.edu
541-737-8720
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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