U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Using Neutron Imaging to Measure and Model Poplar Root Water Extraction After Drought
Published: September 09, 2017
Posted: November 21, 2017

Linking root water uptake to root traits, and assessing performance of common models.

The Science
Neutron imaging is used to measure soil water movement and water uptake by individual roots in situ.

The Impact
Root water uptake can be linked to characteristic root traits, such as diameter or age. Comparing actual water uptake with modeled water uptake highlights problems with current model assumptions. This work points to the need for new research to understand soil hydraulic properties with and without roots present.

Knowledge of plant root function is largely based on indirect measurements of bulk soil water or nutrient extraction, which limits modeling of root function in land surface models. Neutron radiography, complementary to X-ray imaging, was used to assess in situ water uptake from newer, finer roots and older, thicker roots of a poplar seedling growing in sand. The smaller diameter roots had greater water uptake per unit surface area than the larger diameter roots, ranging from 0.0027-0.0116 g/cm2 root surface area/h. Model analysis based on root-free soil hydraulic properties indicated unreasonably large water fluxes between the vertical soil layers during the first 16 hours after wetting — suggesting problems with common soil hydraulic or root surface area modeling approaches, and the need to further research and understand the impacts of roots on soil hydraulic properties.


Daniel Stover
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301-903-0289)

Roland Hirsch
Roland.Hirsch@science.doe.gov (301-903-9009)

(PI Contact)
Jeffrey M. Warren
Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory warrenjm@ornl.gov (865-241-3150)

Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); DOE, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists and Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program; High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science User Facility operated by ORNL

Dhiman, I., H. Bilheux, K. DeCarlo, S.L. Painter, L. Santodonato, J.M. Warren. 2017. “Quantifying Root Water Extraction After Drought Recovery Using Sub-mm In Situ Empirical Data,” Plant and Soil. DOI: 10.1007/s11104-017-3408-5.

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Structural Biology Infrastructure

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


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