Are soils like sponges?

Andrew D. Richardson, Thomas G. Siccama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The purpose of this paper is to explore the validity of the old analogy that `soil is like a sponge.' Laboratory experiments were conducted to measure two hydrologic properties of porous media: drainage under gravity, and water potential curves. A tipping bucket rain gage connected to a data logger was used to measure the rate at which water drained under the force of gravity from a trough filled with four saturated porous media - cellulose sponges, topsoil, peat, and a medium sand. Pressure plate techniques were used to determine water potential curves for soil materials and sponges. In terms of relative cumulative discharge from the trough, sponges were intermediate between peat and topsoil. Because of their tremendous water-holding capacity, sponges discharged more than 2.5 times as much water as did peat. The water potential curve for sponges was fairly flat, like that of topsoil, but the high water content across all pressures (0.30-15.0 bars) indicated some similarity to peat. The results of these experiments suggest that the general patterns of water retention and release in soil materials and sponges are similar and vary only in degree.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)913-918
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Field capacity
  • Peat
  • Soil
  • Sponge
  • Water drainage
  • Water potential curves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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