Stable or unstable wetting fronts in water repellent soils - Effect of antecedent soil moisture content

Coen J. Ritsema, John L. Nieber, Louis W. Dekker, T. S. Steenhuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations

Abstract

Dry water repellent soils are known to inhibit water infiltration, ultimately forcing water to flow via preferential paths through the vadose zone. To study water flow and transport in a water repellent sandy soil, a bromide tracer experiment had been carried out, which started in the fall after winter wheat had been sown. Despite the uniform tracer application, soft core sampling indicated that bromide concentrations varied largely from place to place. Wetter sites in the experimental field received more bromide, due to lateral transport through a thin top layer. Wetting fronts infiltrated deeper here, leading to perturbed wetting fronts in the experimental field. In contrast to what was expected, the wetting front perturbations did not grow to fingers. Numerical results indicate that this was attributed to the relatively high soil water contents during the experiment, which caused the soil to be wettable instead of water repellent. The water-entry capillary pressure of the secondary wetting branch exceeds the air-entry capillary pressure of the primary drainage branch in this case. In the opposite situation, with the water-entry capillary pressure of the secondary wetting branch beneath the air-entry capillary pressure of the primary drainage branch, perturbations would have grown to fingers. Such a situation occurs during infiltration in initially dry, water repellent soil. The results presented illustrate the effect of antecedent moisture conditions on the formation of stable and unstable wetting fronts, and its relation to the moment of tracer application.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-123
Number of pages13
JournalSoil and Tillage Research
Volume47
Issue number1-2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was carried out within the Environment and Climate Research Programme of the EU within framework of project EV5V-CT94-0467 `Analysis and Improvement of Existing Models of Field-Scale Solute Transport through the Vadose Zone of Differently Textured Soils with Special Reference to Preferential Flow'. We would like to thank W. Hamminga, L.J.T. van der Pas and J.H. Smelt for their assistance in sampling and data collection. The authors greatly acknowledge the financial support of the NATO Collaborative Research Grant No. 960704, and the SHELL for providing a travel grant to present this work at the 16th World Congress of Soil Science, Aug. 1998, Montpellier, France.

Copyright:
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Critical soft moisture content
  • Preferential flow
  • Unstable wetting
  • Water repellency

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