Though forming a fundamental component of the water budget, soil evaporation is challenging to quantify in practice. Most water balance and soil moisture studies rely on pan evaporation or empirical relations to calculate evaporation, which is later used for water budget estimation. This study is based on the in situ measurement of soil evaporation in arid regions using smart field lysimeters. These lysimeters calculate the actual evaporation and downward leakage within the soil column using changes in weight, in addition to measuring temperature, soil moisture, soil matric potential, and other ancillary parameters in real time. The study analyses 17 months of data collected from two smart-field lysimeters installed in loamy soil within unirrigated land in Qatar. Lysimeter data were validated using a 1D numerical unsaturated flow model using Hydrus, and utilized laboratory testing results of the water retention. The Hydrus model output shows a good match between numerical and lysimeter results. The volumetric soil moisture of the topsoil in the lysimeters varies between 6% and 36%, with a rapid response to rainfall events. The actual recharge based on data analysis amounts to 5% of the annual rainfall. An analysis of the results reveals a substantial difference between the potential evaporation and the actual evaporation. While the potential values can be adequate for wet countries where rainfall is high, it is irrelevant in arid countries, due to the lack of moisture available for evaporation throughout most of the year. Results also show that while the topsoil responds quickly to rainfall events, it takes a considerable amount of time until such effects are propagated to below the soil’s lower boundary. The findings of this study may help decision makers, researchers, and irrigation engineers plan for the sustainable management and protection of scarce resources.
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