Quantifying the impact of a succession of freezing-thawing cycles on the pore network of a silty clay loam and a loamy sand topsoil using X-ray tomography

Starkloff, Torsten; Larsbo, Mats; Stolte, Jannes; Hessel, Rudi; Ritsema, Coen


In the Nordic countries, changes in pore structure during winter can affect e.g. water transport capacity in soils after winter. A reduction in pore space can cause an increase in runoff volume due to snowmelt and rain, resulting in flooding and soil erosion. This study quantified the effect of freezing-thawing cycles (FTCs) on the macropore structure of a silt and a sandy soil. Six consecutive FTCs were applied to intact soil samples, which were scanned after 0, 1, 2, 4 and 6 FTCs with an industrial X-ray scanner. Using state-of-the-art image processing and analysis techniques, changes in soil macropore network characteristics were quantified. The results showed that freezing-thawing affected the looser sandy soil more than the silt with its more cohesive structure. However, in both soils freezing-thawing had a negative effect on properties of macropore networks (e.g. reduction in macroporosity, thickness and specific surface area of macropores). These findings can help improve understanding of how undisturbed soils react to different winter conditions, which can be beneficial in the development of models for predicting flooding and soil erosion.