Unsaturated water flow across soil aggregate contacts

Unsaturated water flow through soil aggregates is controlled by the contacts between aggregates. The contacts are highly conductive when wet and become bottle-necks for flow when drained. We postulate that the hydraulic conductivity of the contacts is in first place determined by the water-filled contact area. The objective of this study was to measure and model the water-filled contact area and to relate it to the conductivity of a series of aggregates. We performed microscopic tomography of an aggregate pair equilibrated at different water potentials. By means of image analysis and a morphological pore network model, the water-filled contact area was calculated. We found that the aggregate surface is rough and the contact region contains macropores which are rapidly drained. As a consequence the water-filled contact area dramatically decreases as the water potential is diminished. We modeled this process by describing the aggregates as spheres covered by much smaller spheres representing the roughness. The water-filled contact was analytically calculated from this model. Knowing the water-filled contact area we up-scale the hydraulic conductivity of a series of aggregates. This is calculated as the harmonic mean of the contact and aggregate conductivities. The contact conductivity is calculated from the water-filled contact area. Near saturation the conductivity of a series of aggregates is close to the conductivity of a single aggregate, and, when further drained, it rapidly decreases as the water-filled contact area. The model matches the experimental data well. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Published in:
Advances In Water Resources, 31, 1221-1232

 Record created 2010-11-30, last modified 2018-03-17

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