Hydraulic contacts controlling water flow across porous grains
Water flow between porous grains varies widely depending on the water distribution in contacts between grains. The hydraulic behavior of contacts varies from highly conductive when water fills the contacts to a bottleneck to flow as water pressure drops and contact asperities rapidly drain. Such changes greatly impact the hydraulic conductivity of porous grain packs such as aggregated soil. The dominant driving force of water flow across contacts is capillarity, often quantified relative to gravity and viscous forces using the capillary and Bond numbers. For fast water infiltration, viscous forces dominate. For simplicity we modeled the water distribution between spherical porous grains whose surfaces are covered by spherical bumps of much smaller radii. We provide experimental evidence obtained by neutron radiography and synchrotron-based x-ray tomographic microscopy documenting transitions in the flow behavior across contacts.