Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil & Environmental Engineering

Committee Director

Xixi Wang

Committee Member

G. Richard Whittecar

Committee Member

Mujde Erten-Unal


Understanding dynamics of soil water content (SWC) and pore air relative humidity (RHpa), as influenced by wetting-drying cycles, is crucial for sustaining fragile ecosystems of desert lands across the world and needed for improving the prediction accuracy of global climate change. However, to date, such an understanding is still incomplete. The objective of this dissertation was to examine such dynamics at a typical desert site within the Horqin Sandy Land, located in Mongolian Plateau of north China. The examination was done by using a HYDRUS-1D computer simulation model and the continuous sensor-based soil water data for two calendar years. HYDRUS-1D was selected because it can well mimic the vertically-dominant two-phase (i.e., liquid-vapor) processes of water movement within soils of semiarid sandy ecosystem. The results indicated that vaporization primarily occurred at a depth of around 10 cm below the ground surface. The diurnal variations of the SWC and RHpa in the top 10 cm soils were much larger than those in the soils at a deeper depth. For a non-rainy day, the SWC and RHpa were mainly determined by the relative magnitude of atmospheric temperature over soil temperature, whereas, for a rainy day, the SWC and RHpa were primarily controlled by the rainfall pattern and amount. The retardation role of the top dry soil layer, which is about 10 cm thick and exists most time at the study site, can prevent the beneath moist soils from being further dried up, and thus is beneficial for sustaining the desert ecosystem.


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