Water content

Water content

Overview
Water content or moisture content is the quantity of water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 contained in a material, such as soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

 (called soil moisture), rock
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

, ceramic
Ceramic
A ceramic is an inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous...

s, fruit, or wood
Wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

. Water content is used in a wide range of scientific and technical areas, and is expressed as a ratio, which can range from 0 (completely dry) to the value of the materials' porosity
Porosity
Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0–1, or as a percentage between 0–100%...

 at saturation. It can be given on a volumetric or mass (gravimetric) basis.

Volumetric water content, θ, is defined mathematically as:
where is the volume of water and is the total volume (that is soil volume + water volume + air space).

Gravimetric water content is expressed by mass (weight) as follows:
where is the mass of water and is the bulk mass.
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Encyclopedia
Water content or moisture content is the quantity of water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 contained in a material, such as soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

 (called soil moisture), rock
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

, ceramic
Ceramic
A ceramic is an inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous...

s, fruit, or wood
Wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

. Water content is used in a wide range of scientific and technical areas, and is expressed as a ratio, which can range from 0 (completely dry) to the value of the materials' porosity
Porosity
Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0–1, or as a percentage between 0–100%...

 at saturation. It can be given on a volumetric or mass (gravimetric) basis.

Volumetric water content, θ, is defined mathematically as:
where is the volume of water and is the total volume (that is soil volume + water volume + air space).

Gravimetric water content is expressed by mass (weight) as follows:
where is the mass of water and is the bulk mass. The bulk mass is taken as the total mass, except for geotechnical and soil science applications where oven-dried soil (, see the diagram) is conventionally used as .

To convert gravimetric water content to volumetric water, multiply the gravimetric water content by the bulk specific gravity
Specific gravity
Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a reference substance. Apparent specific gravity is the ratio of the weight of a volume of the substance to the weight of an equal volume of the reference substance. The reference substance is nearly always water for...

 of the material.

Degree of saturation


In soil mechanics
Soil mechanics
Soil mechanics is a branch of engineering mechanics that describes the behavior of soils. It differs from fluid mechanics and solid mechanics in the sense that soils consist of a heterogeneous mixture of fluids and particles but soil may also contain organic solids, liquids, and gasses and other...

 and petroleum engineering
Petroleum engineering
Petroleum engineering is an engineering discipline concerned with the activities related to the production of hydrocarbons, which can be either crude oil or natural gas. Subsurface activities are deemed to fall within the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry, which are the activities of...

, the term water saturation or degree of saturation, is used, defined as
where is the porosity
Porosity
Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0–1, or as a percentage between 0–100%...

 and is the volume of void or pore space.

Values of Sw can range from 0 (dry) to 1 (saturated). In reality, Sw never reaches 0 or 1 - these are idealizations for engineering use.

Normalized volumetric water content


The normalized water content, , (also called effective saturation or ) is a dimensionless value defined by van Genuchten as:
where is the volumetric water content; is the residual water content, defined as the water content for which the gradient becomes zero; and, is the saturated water content, which is equivalent to porosity, .

Direct methods


Water content can be directly measured using a known volume of the material, and a drying oven
Oven
An oven is a thermally insulated chamber used for the heating, baking or drying of a substance. It is most commonly used for cooking. Kilns, and furnaces are special-purpose ovens...

. Volumetric water content, θ, is calculated using:
where and are the mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

es of the sample before and after drying in the oven; is the density
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

 of water; and is the volume
Volume
Volume is the quantity of three-dimensional space enclosed by some closed boundary, for example, the space that a substance or shape occupies or contains....

 of the sample before drying the sample.

For materials that change in volume with water content, such as coal
Coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

, the water content, u, is expressed in terms of the mass of water per unit mass of the moist specimen:

However, geotechnics requires the moisture content to be expressed as a percentage of the sample's dry weight
i.e. % moisture content =
Where


For wood
Wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

, the convention is to report moisture content on oven-dry basis (i.e. generally drying sample in an oven set at 105 deg Celsius for 24 hours). In wood drying
Wood drying
Wood drying reduces the moisture content of wood before its use.There are two main reasons for drying wood:...

, this is an important concept.

Laboratory methods


Other methods that determine water content of a sample include chemical titration
Titration
Titration, also known as titrimetry, is a common laboratory method of quantitative chemical analysis that is used to determine the unknown concentration of an identified analyte. Because volume measurements play a key role in titration, it is also known as volumetric analysis. A reagent, called the...

s (for example the Karl Fischer titration
Karl Fischer titration
Karl Fischer titration is a classic titration method in analytical chemistry that uses coulometric or volumetric titration to determine trace amounts of water in a sample. It was invented in 1935 by the German chemist Karl Fischer.-Coulometric titration:...

), determining mass loss on heating (perhaps in the presence of an inert gas), or after freeze drying
Freeze drying
Freeze-drying is a dehydration process typically used to preserve a perishable material or make the material more convenient for transport...

. In the food industry the Dean-Stark method
Dean-Stark apparatus
For the video game character, see Wild Arms 5thumb|right|A Dean-Stark apparatus in use; aluminum foil is used to reduce radiative heat lossesThe Dean-Stark apparatus or Dean-Stark receiver or distilling trap is a piece of laboratory glassware used in synthetic chemistry to collect water from a...

 is also commonly used.

From the Annual Book of ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) Standards, the total evaporable moisture content in Aggregate (C 566) can be calculated with the formula:
where is the fraction of total evaporable moisture content of sample, is the mass of the original sample, and is mass of dried sample.

Geophysical methods


There are several geophysical
Geophysics
Geophysics is the physics of the Earth and its environment in space; also the study of the Earth using quantitative physical methods. The term geophysics sometimes refers only to the geological applications: Earth's shape; its gravitational and magnetic fields; its internal structure and...

 methods available that can approximate in situ soil water content. These methods include: time-domain reflectometry
Time-domain reflectometry
Time-domain reflectometry or TDR is a measurement technique used to determine the characteristics of electrical lines by observing reflected waveforms. Time-domain transmissometry is an analogous technique that measures the transmitted impulse...

 (TDR), neutron probe
Neutron probe
A neutron probe is a device used to measure the quantity of water present in soil.A typical neutron probe contains a pellet of americium-241 and beryllium. The alpha particles emitted by the decay of the americium collide with the light beryllium nuclei, producing fast neutrons...

, frequency domain sensor
Frequency domain sensor
Frequency domain sensor is an instrument developed for measuring soil moisture content. The instrument has an oscillating circuit, the sensing part of the sensor is embedded in the soil, and the operating frequency will depend on the value of soil's dielectric constant.There are two types of...

, capacitance probe
Capacitance probe
Capacitance sensors use capacitance to measure the dielectric permittivity of a surrounding medium.The configuration is like the neutron probe where an access tube made of PVC is installed in the soil. The probe consists of sensing head at fixed depth...

, electrical resistivity tomography
Electrical resistivity tomography
Electrical resistivity tomography or electrical resistivity imaging is a geophysical technique for imaging sub-surface structures from electrical measurements made at the surface, or by electrodes in one or more boreholes. It is closely related to the medical imaging technique electrical...

, ground penetrating radar (GPR), and others that are sensitive to the physical properties of water . Geophysical sensors are often used to monitor soil moisture continuously in agricultural and scientific applications.

Satellite remote sensing method


Satellite microwave remote sensing is used to estimate soil moisture based on the large contrast between the dielectric properties of wet and dry soil. The microwave radiation is not sensitive to atmospheric variables, and can penetrate through clouds. Also, microwave signal can penetrate, to a certain extent, the vegetation canopy and retrieve information from ground surface http://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/1/1/3/. The data from microwave remote sensing satellite such as: WindSat, AMSR-E, RADARSAT, ERS-1-2, Metop/ASCAT are used to estimate surface soil moisture http://hydrolab.arsusda.gov/rsbarc/RSofSM.htm.

Classification and uses


Moisture may be present as adsorbed moisture at internal surfaces and as capillary condensed water in small pores. At low relative humidities, moisture consists mainly of adsorbed water. At higher relative humidities, liquid water becomes more and more important, depending on the pore size. In wood-based materials, however, almost all water is adsorbed at humidities below 98% RH.

In biological applications there can also be a distinction between physisorbed water and "free" water — the physisorbed water being that closely associated with and relatively difficult to remove from a biological material. The method used to determine water content may affect whether water present in this form is accounted for. For a better indication of "free" and "bound" water, the water activity
Water activity
Water activity or aw was developed to account for the intensity with which water associates with various non-aqueous constituents and solids. Simply stated, it is a measure of the energy status of the water in a system...

 of a material should be considered.

Water molecules may also be present in materials closely associated with individual molecules, as "water of crystallization", or as water molecules which are static components of protein structure.

Earth and agricultural sciences


In soil science
Soil science
Soil science is the study of soil as a natural resource on the surface of the earth including soil formation, classification and mapping; physical, chemical, biological, and fertility properties of soils; and these properties in relation to the use and management of soils.Sometimes terms which...

, hydrology
Hydrology
Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the hydrologic cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability...

 and agricultural science
Agricultural science
Agricultural science is a broad multidisciplinary field that encompasses the parts of exact, natural, economic and social sciences that are used in the practice and understanding of agriculture. -Agriculture and agricultural science:The two terms are often confused...

s, water content has an important role for groundwater recharge, agriculture
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

, and soil chemistry
Soil chemistry
Soil chemistry is the study of the chemical characteristics of soil. Soil chemistry is affected by mineral composition, organic matter and environmental factors.-History:...

. Many recent scientific research efforts have aimed toward a predictive-understanding of water content over space and time. Observations have revealed generally that spatial variance in water content tends to increase as overall wetness increases in semiarid regions, to decrease as overall wetness increases in humid regions, and to peak under intermediate wetness conditions in temperature regions .

There are four standard water contents that are routinely measured and used, which are described in the following table:
Name Notation Suction pressure
(J/kg or kPa)
Typical water content
(vol/vol)
Description
Saturated water content θs 0 0.2–0.5 Fully saturated soil, equivalent to effective porosity
Effective porosity
The term effective porosity lacks a single or straightforward definition. Even some of the terms used in its mathematical description have multiple definitions. However, it is most commonly considered to represent the porosity of a rock or sediment available to contribute to fluid flow through...

Field capacity
Field capacity
Field capacity is the amount of soil moisture or water content held in soil after excess water has drained away and the rate of downward movement has materially decreased, which usually takes place within 2–3 days after a rain or irrigation in pervious soils of uniform structure and texture...

θfc −33 0.1–0.35 Soil moisture 2–3 days after a rain or irrigation
Permanent wilting point
Permanent wilting point
Permanent wilting point or wilting point is defined as the minimal point of soil moisture the plant requires not to wilt. If moisture decreases to this or any lower point a plant wilts and can no longer recover its turgidity when placed in a saturated atmosphere for 12 hours...

θpwp or θwp −1500 0.01–0.25 Minimum soil moisture at which a plant wilts
Residual water content θr −∞ 0.001–0.1 Remaining water at high tension


And lastly the available water content
Available water capacity
Available water capacity or available water content is the range of available water that can be stored in soil and be available for growing crops....

, θa, which is equivalent to:
θa ≡ θfc − θpwp

which can range between 0.1 in gravel
Gravel
Gravel is composed of unconsolidated rock fragments that have a general particle size range and include size classes from granule- to boulder-sized fragments. Gravel can be sub-categorized into granule and cobble...

 and 0.3 in peat
Peat
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter or histosol. Peat forms in wetland bogs, moors, muskegs, pocosins, mires, and peat swamp forests. Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel in certain parts of the world...

.

Agriculture


When a soil gets too dry, plant transpiration
Transpiration
Transpiration is a process similar to evaporation. It is a part of the water cycle, and it is the loss of water vapor from parts of plants , especially in leaves but also in stems, flowers and roots. Leaf surfaces are dotted with openings which are collectively called stomata, and in most plants...

 drops because the water is becoming increasingly bound to the soil particles by suction. Below the wilting point plants are no longer able to extract water. At this point they wilt and cease transpiring altogether. Conditions where soil is too dry to maintain reliable plant growth is referred to as agricultural
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 drought
Drought
A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

, and is a particular focus of irrigation
Irrigation
Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

 management. Such conditions are common in arid
Arid
A region is said to be arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or even preventing the growth and development of plant and animal life...

 and semi-arid
Semi-arid
A semi-arid climate or steppe climate describes climatic regions that receive precipitation below potential evapotranspiration, but not extremely...

 environments.

Some agriculture professionals are beginning to use environmental measurements such as soil moisture to schedule irrigation
Irrigation
Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

. This method is referred to as smart irrigation or soil cultivation.

Groundwater


In saturated groundwater
Groundwater
Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock...

 aquifer
Aquifer
An aquifer is a wet underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials from which groundwater can be usefully extracted using a water well. The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydrogeology...

s, all available pore
Porosity
Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0–1, or as a percentage between 0–100%...

 spaces are filled with water (volumetric water content = porosity
Porosity
Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the void spaces in a material, and is a fraction of the volume of voids over the total volume, between 0–1, or as a percentage between 0–100%...

). Above a capillary fringe
Capillary fringe
The capillary fringe is the subsurface layer in which groundwater seeps up from a water table by capillary action to fill pores. Pores at the base of the capillary fringe are filled with water due to tension saturation. This saturated portion of the capillary fringe is less than total capillary...

, pore spaces have air in them too.

Most soils have a water content less than porosity, which is the definition of unsaturated conditions, and they make up the subject of vadose zone
Vadose zone
The vadose zone, also termed the unsaturated zone, is the portion of Earth between the land surface and the top of the phreatic zone i.e. the position at which the groundwater is at atmospheric pressure . Hence the vadose zone extends from the top of the ground surface to the water table...

 hydrogeology. The capillary fringe
Capillary fringe
The capillary fringe is the subsurface layer in which groundwater seeps up from a water table by capillary action to fill pores. Pores at the base of the capillary fringe are filled with water due to tension saturation. This saturated portion of the capillary fringe is less than total capillary...

 of the water table
Water table
The water table is the level at which the submarine pressure is far from atmospheric pressure. It may be conveniently visualized as the 'surface' of the subsurface materials that are saturated with groundwater in a given vicinity. However, saturated conditions may extend above the water table as...

 is the dividing line between saturated and unsaturated conditions. Water content in the capillary fringe decreases with increasing distance above the phreatic
Phreatic
The term phreatic is used in Earth sciences to refer to matters relating to ground water below the water table . The term 'phreatic surface' indicates the location where the pore water pressure is under atmospheric conditions...

 surface.

One of the main complications which arises in studying the vadose zone, is the fact that the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity is a function of the water content of the material. As a material dries out, the connected wet pathways through the media become smaller, the hydraulic conductivity decreasing with lower water content in a very non-linear fashion.

A water retention curve
Water retention curve
Water retention curve is the relationship between the water content, θ, and the soil water potential, ψ. This curve is characteristic for different types of soil, and is also called the soil moisture characteristic....

 is the relationship between volumetric water content and the water potential
Water potential
Water potential is the potential energy of water per unit volume relative to pure water in reference conditions. Water potential quantifies the tendency of water to move from one area to another due to osmosis, gravity, mechanical pressure, or matrix effects such as surface tension...

 of the porous medium. It is characteristic for different types of porous medium. Due to hysteresis
Hysteresis
Hysteresis is the dependence of a system not just on its current environment but also on its past. This dependence arises because the system can be in more than one internal state. To predict its future evolution, either its internal state or its history must be known. If a given input alternately...

, different wetting and drying curves may be distinguished.

See also

  • Humidity
    Humidity
    Humidity is a term for the amount of water vapor in the air, and can refer to any one of several measurements of humidity. Formally, humid air is not "moist air" but a mixture of water vapor and other constituents of air, and humidity is defined in terms of the water content of this mixture,...

    , "water content" in air
  • Moisture
    Moisture
    Humidity is the amount of moisture the air can hold before it rains. Moisture refers to the presence of a liquid, especially water, often in trace amounts...

  • Moisture analysis
    Moisture analysis
    Moisture analysis covers a variety of methods for measuring moisture content in both high level and trace amounts in solids, liquids, or gases. Moisture in percentage amounts is monitored as a specification in commercial food production. There are many applications where trace moisture...

  • Soil moisture sensors
    Soil moisture sensors
    Soil moisture sensors measure the water content in soil. A soil moisture probe is made up of multiple soil moisture sensors. One common type of soil moisture sensors in commercial use is a Frequency domain sensor such as a capacitance sensor...

  • Water activity
    Water activity
    Water activity or aw was developed to account for the intensity with which water associates with various non-aqueous constituents and solids. Simply stated, it is a measure of the energy status of the water in a system...

  • Water retention curve
    Water retention curve
    Water retention curve is the relationship between the water content, θ, and the soil water potential, ψ. This curve is characteristic for different types of soil, and is also called the soil moisture characteristic....