Drying front and water content dynamics during evaporation from sand delineated by neutron radiography
Evaporative drying of porous media is jointly controlled by external ( atmospheric) conditions and by media internal transport properties. Effects of different atmospheric potential evaporative demand on observed drying rates were studied in a series of laboratory experiments using sand-filled Hele-Shaw cells. We examined two potential evaporation rates of about 8 and 40 mm per day. The evolution and geometry of the drying front (marking the interface between saturated and partially dry regions) and water content distribution above the drying front were measured every 5 min at 0.1 mm spatial resolution using neutron radiography. Water loss rates decreased with time for both rates, but the decrease was more pronounced for high evaporative demand. External evaporative demand had no effect on drying front geometry or spatial water content distribution for depths below 2 mm. Cycles of roughening and smoothing of drying fronts due to interfacial pinning and unpinning were observed. The water content above the front showed irregular patterns due to formation of isolated liquid clusters with the general profile showing a decrease in mean water content with deepening drying front. Measured water content profiles support the hypothesis that liquid flow supply surface evaporation during stage 1 and water content distribution were not affected by external drying rates. Additionally, observed saturation profiles indicate that the corresponding hydraulic conductivity supports fluxes larger than the highest drying rate measured for sand, suggesting that decreasing drying rate was limited by vapor exchange between progressively drying surface and the viscous boundary layer above.