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This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 64 No. 6, p. 1926-1930
    Received: Sept 16, 1999

    * Corresponding author(s): hydsol@cyllene.uwa.edu.au


A Simple Treatment of Physical Nonequilibrium Water Flow in Soils

  1. P. J. Rossa and
  2. K. R. J. Smettem *b
  1. a CSIRO Land and Water, Cunningham Laboratory, 306 Carmody Road, St Lucia, Brisbane, QLD 4067, Australia
    b Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Perth, WA. 6907, Australia


Water flow in soils with sufficiently large aggregate size or pore-class heterogeneity may exhibit a nonequilibrium between the actual water content and that given by the water retention curve. The result is deeper penetration of infiltrating water than predicted using classical infiltration theory. Models of this process usually divide the soil into two or more exchanging flow regions. A simpler treatment is possible by combining Richards' equation with a dynamic description of the approach to equilibrium. We present a first-order time constant equilibration model of infiltration into a hypothetical structured soil and use the model to describe published outflow responses to constant rate rainfall on six large, undisturbed cores. Using measured hydraulic properties and varying only the A and B horizon time constants, the model was fitted to cumulative outflow from one particular soil core that had measured time domain reflectometry (TDR) water contents at the 0.05- and 0.5-m depths recorded during the experiment. Cumulative outflow was fitted using time constants of 4 and 5 h for A and B horizons, respectively, and this also gave good agreement with TDR measured water contents. Cumulative outflow and runoff from a further four of the six cores was described using the same A and B horizon time constants and varying only the macropore hydraulic conductivity. The remaining core contained a decayed root, which conducted water rapidly with little opportunity for lateral exchange. A description of cumulative outflow required both the macropore hydraulic conductivity and the time constant to be altered.

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