Evolution of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of aggregated soils due to compressive forces
Prediction of water flow and transport processes in soils susceptible to structural alteration such as compaction of tilled agricultural lands or newly constructed landfills rely on accurate description of changes in soil unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. Recent studies have documented the critical impact of aggregate contact characteristics on water flow rates and pathways in unsaturated aggregated soils. We developed an analytical model for aggregate contact size evolution as a basis for quantifying effects of compression on saturated and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of aggregated soil. Relating confined one-dimensional sample strain with aggregate deformation facilitates prediction of the increase in interaggregate contact area and concurrent decrease in macropore size with degree of sample compression. The hydrologic component of the model predicts unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of a pack of idealized aggregates (spheres) on the basis of contact size and saturation conditions under prescribed sample deformation. Calculated contact areas and hydraulic conductivity for pairs of aggregates agreed surprisingly well with measured values, determined from compaction experiments employing neutron and X-ray-radiography and image analysis. Model calculations for a unit cell of uniform spherical aggregates in cubic packing were able to mimic some of the differences in saturated and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity observed for aggregates and bulk soil.