EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Using the Debye parameters of soil for water content and contamination level determination.

Lourdes Farrugia1, Raffaele Persico2, Andrea Cataldo3, Iman Farhat1, and Raissa Schiavoni3
Lourdes Farrugia et al.
  • 1University of Malta, Faculty of Science, Physics, Msida, Malta (
  • 2Department of Environmental Engineering DIAM, University of Calabria, 87036 Rende, Italy
  • 3Department of Engineering for Innovation, University of Salento, 73100 Lecce, Italy

The use of time domain reflectometry (TDR) techniques for in-situ, non-destructive measurement of water content has revolutionized soil water management and it is a rapidly growing area of interest. Additionally, monitoring other soil parameters such as levels of contaminants in soil is becoming an active field of research due to increasing environmental pollution and thus enforcement of contamination levels from policy makers. As a result, in recent years there have been advancements of TDR probe capability in terms of operating range, proven design, multiplexing and automated data collection. However, there is still a strong need for systems that are user-friendly and low cost which provide for quasi-real time and in situ monitoring with high sensitivity of soil parameters with adequate accuracy.

In this paper, we present a system consisting of a bifilar TDR probe interfaced with a miniaturized Vector network analyser which enabled measurements of the reflection coefficient in the frequency-domain.   The reflection coefficient is then related to soil parameters, such as soil water content and percentage of diesel oil (as an example of soil contaminant) through an innovative numerical procedure that retrieves the Debye parameters of different soil samples under different conditions.

This numerical procedure consisted of two main steps:

Firstly, the accurate modelling of the bifilar TDR probe in CST Microwave Studio such that the model is an accurate representation of the experimental setup used in the laboratory. This model was also validated using well-characterised materials such as Methanol and Prop-2-ol, utilising Debye parameters as published in [1].

Finally, the bifilar probes were immersed in soil samples having different moisture levels (dry up to 30%, in steps of 5%) and contaminated soil with different percentages of diesel oil (0%, 5%, 7.5% and 10%) and the Debye parameters were retrieved using the validated model in the first step.

Results illustrate that there exists a correlation between the retrieved Debye parameters and the moisture levels and percentage of diesel oil in soil. This proves that the Debye parameters provide the necessary information to differentiate between water or contaminant content and thus can be used for monitoring purposes rather than conducting measurements of the dielectric permittivity.



[1] Gregory, A.P.; Clarke, R.N. Tables of the Complex Permittivity of Dielectric Reference Liquids at Frequencies up to 5 GHz; National Physical Laboratory Report; 2012. Available online: (accessed on 13 September 2022).

How to cite: Farrugia, L., Persico, R., Cataldo, A., Farhat, I., and Schiavoni, R.: Using the Debye parameters of soil for water content and contamination level determination., EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-15344,, 2023.