Measurement and modeling of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity

Edited by: Lakshmanan Elango



The unsaturated zone plays an extremely important hydrologic role that influences water quality and quantity, ecosystem function and health, the connection between atmospheric and terrestrial processes, nutrient cycling, soil development, and natural hazards such as flooding and landslides. Unsaturated hydraulic conductivity is one of the main properties considered to govern flow; however it is very difficult to measure accurately. Knowledge of the highly nonlinear relationship between unsaturated hydraulic conductivity (K) and volumetric water content is required for widely-used models of water flow and solute transport processes in the unsaturated zone. Measurement of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of sediments is costly and time consuming, therefore use of models that estimate this property from more easily measured bulk-physical properties is common. In hydrologic studies, calculations based on property-transfer models informed by hydraulic property databases are often used in lieu of measured data from the site of interest. Reliance on database-informed predicted values with the use of neural networks has become increasingly common. Hydraulic properties predicted using databases may be adequate in some applications, but not others. This chapter will discuss, by way of examples, various techniques used to measure and model hydraulic conductivity as a function of water content, K. The parameters that describe the K curve obtained by different methods are used directly in Richards’ equation-based numerical models, which have some degree of sensitivity to those parameters. This chapter will explore the complications of using laboratory measured or estimated properties for field scale investigations to shed light on how adequately the processes are represented. Additionally, some more recent concepts for representing unsaturated-zone flow processes will be discussed.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Measurement and modeling of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity
DOI 10.5772/20017
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher InTech
Publisher location Rijeka, Croatia
Description 16 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Title Hydraulic conductivity: issues, determination and applications
First page 419
Last page 434
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N