Estimating unsaturated soil hydraulic properties from laboratory tension disc infiltrometer experiments

Jiří Šimůnek, Ole Wendroth, Martinus T. Van Genuchten

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Four tension disc infiltration experiments were carried out on a loamy soil in the laboratory for the purpose of estimating the unsaturated soil hydraulic properties. Sixteen tensiometers were installed in pairs at the following coordinate (r, z) positions: (10, 2.5), (10, 5), (10, 10), (15, 5), (15, 10), (15, 15), (15, 20), and (15, 30), where r represents the distance from the axis of symmetry and z is the location below the soil surface. A time domain reflectometry (TDR) probe was used to measure water contents at a depth of 2 cm directly below the tension disc. The first three experiments involved supply pressure heads at the disc of -20, -10, -5, and -1 cm, with the experiment lasting for ~5 hours. The same supply pressure heads were also used for the fourth experiment, which lasted 6.25 days so as to reach steady state at each applied tension. The measured data were analyzed using Wooding's [1968] analytical solution and by numerical inversion. The parameter estimation method combined a quasi three-dimensional numerical solution of the Richards equation with the Marquardt-Levenberg optimization scheme. The objective function for the parameter estimation analysis was defined using different combinations of the cumulative infiltrated volume, TDR readings, and tensiometer measurements. The estimated hydraulic properties were compared against results obtained with an evaporation experiment as analyzed with Wind's [1968] method. Water contents in the retention curves were underestimated when both transient and quasi steady state experiments were analyzed by parameter estimation. Unsaturated hydraulic conductivities obtained by parameter estimation and using Wooding's [1968] analysis corresponded well. Drying branches of the hydraulic conductivity function determined by parameter estimation also corresponded well with those obtained with the evaporation method.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2965-2979
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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