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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract -

A Two-Stage Procedure for Determining Unsaturated Hydraulic Characteristics using a Syringe Pump and Outflow Observations


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 61 No. 2, p. 347-359
    Received: Nov 6, 1995

    * Corresponding author(s): khj@isva.dtu.dk
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  1. D. Wildenschild,
  2. K. Høgh Jensen ,
  3. K. J. Hollenbeck,
  4. T. Sonnenborg,
  5. M. B. Butts,
  6. T. H. Illangasekare and
  7. D. Znidarcic
  1. Dep. of Hydrodynamics and Water Resources (ISVA), Technical Univ. of Denmark, Bldg. 115, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark
    Dep. of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, Campus Box 428, Boulder, CO 80309-0428



A fast two-stage methodology for determining unsaturated flow characteristics is presented. The procedure builds on direct measurement of the retention characteristic using a syringe pump technique, combined with inverse estimation of the hydraulic conductivity characteristic based on one-step outflow experiments. The direct measurements are obtained with a commercial syringe pump, which continuously withdraws fluid from a soil sample at a very low and accurate flow rate, thus providing the water content in the soil sample. The retention curve is then established by simultaneously monitoring the capillary pressure. The measured retention curves were compared with those obtained by static methods and found to agree closely. Subsequently, a transient outflow experiment is carried out on the same soil sample, in the same apparatus, and the information is obtained on a time-scale of days. The one-step outflow data and the independently measured retention data are included in the objective function of a traditional least-squares minimization routine, providing unique estimates of the unsaturated hydraulic characteristics by means of numerical inversion of Richards equation. As opposed to what is often assumed in practical applications, we found it necessary to allow the exponent (γ) of van Genuchten's hydraulic conductivity expression to vary to obtain satisfactory estimates. Optimized hydraulic conductivity estimates were ultimately compared with directly measured values, and visual agreement was quite satisfactory. However, we encountered numerical instabilities of the optimization code used (SFIT), a flaw that may constitute a potential problem when using this code for the optimization.

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