Analyzing the spatial and temporal distribution of soil moisture is critical for ecohydrological processes and for sustainable water management studies in wetlands. The characterization of soil moisture dynamics and its influencing factors in agriculturally used wetlands pose a challenge in data-scarce regions such as East Africa. High resolution and good-quality time series soil moisture data are rarely available and gaps are frequent due to measurement constraints and device malfunctioning. Soil water models that integrate meteorological conditions and soil water storage may significantly overcome limitations due to data gaps at a point scale. The purpose of this study was to evaluate if the Hydrus-1D model would adequately simulate soil water dynamics at different hydrological zones of a tropical floodplain in Tanzania, to determine controlling factors for wet and dry periods and to assess soil water availability. The zones of the Kilombero floodplain were segmented as riparian, middle, and fringe along a defined transect. The model was satisfactorily calibrated (coefficient of determination; R2
= 0.54–0.92, root mean square error; RMSE = 0.02–0.11) on a plot scale using measured soil moisture content at soil depths of 10, 20, 30, and 40 cm. Satisfying statistical measures (R2
= 0.36–0.89, RMSE = 0.03–0.13) were obtained when calibrations for one plot were validated with measured soil moisture for another plot within the same hydrological zone. Results show the transferability of the calibrated Hydrus-1D model to predict soil moisture for other plots with similar hydrological conditions. Soil water storage increased towards the riparian zone, at 262.8 mm/a while actual evapotranspiration was highest (1043.9 mm/a) at the fringe. Overbank flow, precipitation, and groundwater control soil moisture dynamics at the riparian and middle zone, while at the fringe zone, rainfall and lateral flow from mountains control soil moisture during the long rainy seasons. In the dry and short rainy seasons, rainfall, soil properties, and atmospheric demands control soil moisture dynamics at the riparian and middle zone. In addition to these factors, depths to groundwater level control soil moisture variability at the fringe zone. Our results support a better understanding of groundwater-soil water interaction, and provide references for wetland conservation and sustainable agricultural water management.
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