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Sensors 2010, 10(8), 7748-7771;

Field Evaluation of Polymer Capacitive Humidity Sensors for Bowen Ratio Energy Balance Flux Measurements

Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Continuum Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 3201, South Africa
Received: 28 June 2010 / Revised: 20 July 2010 / Accepted: 5 August 2010 / Published: 20 August 2010
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The possibility of reliable, reasonably accurate and relatively inexpensive estimates of sensible heat and latent energy fluxes was investigated using a commercial combination thin-film polymer capacitive relative humidity and adjacent temperature sensor instrument. Long-term and unattended water vapour pressure profile difference measurements using low-power combination instruments were compared with those from a cooled dewpoint mirror hygrometer, the latter often used with Bowen ratio energy balance (BREB) systems. An error analysis, based on instrument relative humidity and temperature errors, was applied for various capacitive humidity instrument models. The main disadvantage of a combination capacitive humidity instrument is that two measurements, relative humidity and temperature, are required for estimation of water vapour pressure as opposed to one for a dewpoint hygrometer. In a laboratory experiment using an automated procedure, water vapour pressure differences generated using a reference dewpoint generator were measured using a commercial model (Dew-10) dewpoint hygrometer and a combination capacitive humidity instrument. The laboratory measurement comparisons showed that, potentially, an inexpensive model combination capacitive humidity instrument (CS500 or HMP50), or for improved results a slightly more expensive model (HMP35C or HMP45C), could substitute for the more expensive dewpoint hygrometer. In a field study, in a mesic grassland, the water vapour pressure measurement noise for the combination capacitive humidity instruments was greater than that for the dewpoint hygrometer. The average water vapour pressure profile difference measured using a HMP45C was highly correlated with that from a dewpoint hygrometer with a slope less than unity. Water vapour pressure measurements using the capacitive humidity instruments were not as accurate, compared to those obtained using a dewpoint hygrometer, but the resolution magnitudes for the profile difference measurements were less than the minimum of 0.01 kPa required for BREB measurements when averaged over 20 min. Furthermore, the longer-term capacitive humidity measurements are more reliable and not dependent on a sensor bias adjustment as is the case for the dewpoint hygrometer. A field comparison of CS500 and HMP45C profile water vapour pressure differences yielded a slope of close to unity. However, the CS500 exhibited more variable water vapour pressure measurements mainly due to its increased variation in temperature measurements compared to the HMP45C. Comparisons between 20-min BREB sensible heat fluxes obtained using a HMP45C and a dewpoint hygrometer yielded a slope of almost unity. BREB sensible heat fluxes measured using a HMP45C were reasonably well correlated with those obtained using a surface-layer scintillometer and eddy covariance (slope of 0.9629 and 0.9198 respectively). This reasonable agreement showed that a combination capacitive humidity instrument, with similar relative humidity (RH) and temperature error magnitudes of at most 2% RH and 0.3 °C respectively, and similar measurement time response, would be an adequate and less expensive substitute for a dewpoint hygrometer. Furthermore, a combination capacitive humidity instrument requires no servicing compared to a dewpoint hygrometer which requires a bias adjustment and mirror cleaning each week. These findings make unattended BREB measurements of sensible heat flux and evaporation cheaper and more reliable with the system easier to assemble and service and with reduced instrument power. View Full-Text
Keywords: humidity resolution; energy balance fluxes; humidity measurement; surface-layer scintillometer; eddy covariance humidity resolution; energy balance fluxes; humidity measurement; surface-layer scintillometer; eddy covariance

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Savage, M.J. Field Evaluation of Polymer Capacitive Humidity Sensors for Bowen Ratio Energy Balance Flux Measurements. Sensors 2010, 10, 7748-7771.

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