Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Ole Wendroth


Improving agricultural water management is important for conserving water during dry seasons, using limited water resources in the most efficient way, and minimizing environmental risks (e.g., leaching, surface runoff). The understanding of water movement in different zones of agricultural production fields is crucial to developing an effective irrigation strategy. This work centered on optimizing field water management by characterizing the spatial patterns of soil hydraulic properties. Soil hydraulic conductivity was measured across different zones in a farmer’s field, and its spatial variability was investigated by using geostatistical techniques. Since direct measurement of hydraulic conductivity is time-consuming and arduous, pedo-transfer functions (PTFs) have been developed to estimate hydraulic conductivity indirectly through more easily measurable soil properties. Due to ignoring soil structural information and spatial covariance between soil variables, PTFs often perform unsatisfactorily when field-scale estimations of hydraulic conductivity are needed. The performance of PTFs in estimating hydraulic conductivity in the field was therefore critically evaluated. Due to the presence of structural macro-pores, saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ks) showed high spatial heterogeneity, and this variability was not captured by texture-dominated PTF estimates. However, the general spatial pattern of near-saturated hydraulic conductivity can still be reasonably generated by PTF estimates. Therefore, the hydraulic conductivity maps based on PTF estimates should be evaluated carefully and handled with caution. Recognizing the significant contribution of macro-pores to saturated water flow, PTFs were further improved by including soil macro-porosity and were proven to perform much better in estimating Ks compared with established PTFs tested in this study. Additionally, the spatial relationship between hydraulic conductivity and its potential influencing factors were further quantified by the state-space approach. State-space models outperformed current PTFs and effectively described the spatial characteristics of hydraulic conductivity in the studied field. These findings provided a basis for modeling water/solute transport in the vadose zone, and sitespecific water management.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

United States Geological Survey

Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute

Southern Soybean Research Program

Kentucky Small Grain Growers’ Association

Kentucky Soybean Board

Kentucky Corn Growers’ Association