Measurements of a water potential and water content in unsaturated crystalline rock

Schneebeli, Martin; Fluehler, Hannes; Gimmi, Thomas; Wydler, Hannes; Laeser, Hans-Peter; Baer, Toni (1995). Measurements of a water potential and water content in unsaturated crystalline rock. Water resources research, 31(8), pp. 1837-1843. American Geophysical Union 10.1029/95WR01487

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A water desaturation zone develops around a tunnel in water-saturated rock when the evaporative water loss at the rock surface is larger than the water flow from the surrounding saturated region of restricted permeability. We describe the methods with which such water desaturation processes in rock materials can be quantified. The water retention characteristic theta(psi) of crystalline rock samples was determined with a pressure membrane apparatus. The negative water potential, identical to the capillary pressure, psi, below the tensiometric range (psi < -0.1 MPa) can be measured with thermocouple psychrometers (TP), and the volumetric water contents, theta, by means of time domain reflectometry (TDR). These standard methods were adapted for measuring the water status in a macroscopically unfissured granodiorite with a total porosity of approximately 0.01. The measured water retention curve of granodiorite samples from the Grimsel test site (central Switzerland) exhibits a shape which is typical for bimodal pore size distributions. The measured bimodality is probably an artifact of a large surface ratio of solid/voids. The thermocouples were installed without a metallic screen using the cavity drilled into the granodiorite as a measuring chamber. The water potentials observed in a cylindrical granodiorite monolith ranged between -0.1 and -3.0 MPa; those near the wall in a ventilated tunnel between -0.1 and -2.2 MPa. Two types of three-rod TDR Probes were used, one as a depth probe inserted into the rock, the other as a surface probe using three copper stripes attached to the surface for detecting water content changes in the rock-to-air boundary. The TDR signal was smoothed with a low-pass filter, and the signal length determined based on the first derivative of the trace. Despite the low porosity of crystalline rock these standard methods are applicable to describe the unsaturated zone in solid rock and may also be used in other consolidated materials such as concrete.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Gimmi, Thomas


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




American Geophysical Union




Thomas Gimmi

Date Deposited:

18 Sep 2014 14:02

Last Modified:

16 Dec 2014 11:54

Publisher DOI:





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