Lysimeters – Exploring Soils from Below

Aerial photo Lysimeters

For research questions of nutrient efficiency and losses, it is particularly important to study processes of substance turnover and transport in undisturbed soils. With the aid of lysimeters, we are able to take a close look at these very processes. The lysimeter facilities in Zurich-Reckenholz, with their 12 and 72 lysimeters, respectively, serve primarily as a means of studying infiltration-water transport and nitrate leaching in various farming systems, tillage practices, fertilisation treatments and soil types.

Trial Design

The 12-lysimeter facility was constructed in 1979/1980. Six of the vessels with a depth of 2.5 m and a surface area of 3 m2 contain a sandy-loamy Cambisol on top of gravel, the other six a loamy Cambisol on moraine loam. The soil material of this facility was filled into the vessels in layers. It is currently used for experiments on nitrate leaching in vegetable production.
The 72-lysimeter facility was completed in 2009, and is the largest lysimeter facility in Europe. The vessels with a depth of 1.5 m and a surface area of 1 m2 contain monolithic soil bodies of a loamy Luvisol from Schafisheim (12), sandy-loamy Cambisol from Grafenried (48) and loamy-silty pseudogleyic Cambisol from Zurich-Reckenholz (12). Various experiments with different arable crops, catch crops and running times – usually as multiyear rotations – are conducted in this facility.


In all lysimeter vessels, the amount of infiltration water is measured via 100 ml tilting scales and the concentrations of nitrate, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other substances in the infiltration water are measured at 14-day intervals. All of the vessels of the 12-lysimeter facility as well as 12 vessels of the 72-lysimeter facility are weighable, and the weight is recorded every five minutes. Sensors record soil temperature, water tension and water content at different soil depths in duplicate.
Infiltration-water quantity and evapotranspiration vary strongly both between years as a function of weather and within years as a function of the crop. In addition, soil type and soil properties have been shown to have a major effect on how quickly pesticides enter the groundwater.


Key data

Topic: Infiltration processes, leaching

Site: Zurich-Reckenholz

Location: 47.428050, 8.518053;
443 m a.s.l.

Start years: 1979, 2009

Design: according to study

Soil types (WRB): Cambisol; pseudogleyic Cambisol; Luvisol

Soil texture: Loam, sandy loam, silty loam

Precipitation: 1050 mm

Temperature: 9.4 °C

Further Information

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Last modification 27.04.2021

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