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This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 40 No. 6, p. 830-836
    Received: Feb 16, 1976
    Accepted: June 29, 1976

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Error Propagation in Determining Hydraulic Conductivities from Successive Water Content and Pressure Head Profiles1

  1. H. Flühler,
  2. M. S. Ardakani and
  3. L. H. Stolzy2



The flux of water in unsaturated soils can be determined indirectly by using Darcy's Law. The critical part of this approach is the determination of the hydraulic conductivity at a given depth and time. In this paper we analyze the relative errors of hydraulic conductivities determined from a transient drainage field experiment. Knowing the errors of this method would be useful in planning future experiments. It allows putting limitations on the conclusions to be drawn from such experiments and it further allows re-examination of already published field data.

In the wet range of the conductivity function errors are 20–30% of the k-value. In the range where k-values are small, the relative errors may be > 100%. Errors stemming from tensiometer readings are significant when the hydraulic gradient is < 0.3 mbar · cm-1. During the early stage of the transient drainage experiment these errors are always considerable and are more important than other errors. On the other hand, the errors in the measured water content changes are dominant when drainage is slowed down due to desaturation of the soil.

The errors contained in the conductivity, k, are calculated by means of error propagation equations. These errors are also simulated using the Monte Carlo technique. The simulation shows that the conductivity errors predicted by explicit error propagation equations are optimistic minimum estimates.

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