Knowledge of water flow in soils is crucial to understanding terrestrial hydrological cycle, surface energy balance, biogeochemical dynamics, ecosystem services, contaminant transport, and many other Critical Zone processes. However, due to the complex and dynamic nature of non-uniform flow, reconstruction and prediction of water flow in natural soils remain challenging. This study synthesizes three principles of water flow in soils that can improve modeling water flow in soils of various complexity. The first principle, known as the Darcy's law, came to light in the 19th century and suggested a linear relationship between water flux density and hydraulic gradient, which was modified by Buckingham for unsaturated soils. Combining mass balance and the Buckingham-Darcy’s law, L.A. Richards quantitatively described soil water change with space and time, i.e., Richards equation. The second principle was proposed by L.A. Richards in the 20th century, which described the minimum pressure potential needed to overcome surface tension of fluid and initiate water flow through soil-air interface. This study extends this principle to encompass soil hydrologic phenomena related to varied interfaces and microscopic features and provides a more cohesive explanation of hysteresis, hydrophobicity, and threshold behavior when water moves through layered soils. The third principle is emerging in the 21st century, which highlights the complex and evolving flow networks embedded in heterogeneous soils. This principle is summarized as: Water moves non-uniformly in natural soils with a dual-flow regime, i.e., it follows the least-resistant or preferred paths when “pushed” (e.g., by storms) or “attracted” (e.g., by plants) or “restricted” (e.g., by bedrock), but moves diffusively into the matrix when “relaxed” (e.g., at rest) or “touched” (e.g., adsorption). The first principle is a macroscopic view of steady-state water flow, the second principle is a microscopic view of interface-based dynamics of water flow, and the third principle combines macroscopic and microscopic consideration to explain a mosaic-like flow regime in soils. Integration of above principles can advance flow theory, measurement, and modeling and can improve management of soil and water resources.
Guo, L and Lin, H. (2016): Three Principles of Water Flow in Soils. 2016 Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, CA, 12-16 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.