Technical ArticlesANALYSIS OF UNSATURATED WATER FLOW IN A LARGE SAND TANKSchmalz, Britta1; Lennartz, Bernd2; van Genuchten, Martinus Th.3Author Information 1Institute of Water Management and Landscape Ecology, University Kiel, Olshausenstr. 40, 24118 Kiel, Germany. 2Institute of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, University Rostock, Justus-von-Liebig-Weg 6, 18051 Rostock, Germany. E-mail: [email protected] 3George E. Brown, Jr. Salinity Laboratory, USDA, ARS, 450 West Big Springs Rd., Riverside, CA 92507-4617, Received Feb. 27, 2002; accepted Sept. 4, 2002. DOI: 10.1097/01.ss.0000049727.63732.8a Soil Science: January 2003 - Volume 168 - Issue 1 - p 3-14 Buy Abstract A realistic, physically based simulation of water and solute movement in the unsaturated soil zone requires reasonable estimates of the water retention and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity functions. A variety of studies have revealed the importance of how these unsaturated soil parameters are assessed and subsequently distributed over the numerical mesh on modeling outcome. This study was initiated to acquire experimental data about the water flow characteristics of sandy soils to serve as a base for numerical analyses. Specific objectives were to clarify the effects of (i) the invoked procedure for estimating the soil hydraulic parameters and (ii) using increasingly refined spatial definitions of the hydraulic properties on simulated two dimensional water content and flow velocity distributions. Water flow in and drainage from a large sand tank (approximately 5 × 3 m2 at the base, 6 × 5.6 m2 at the top) was investigated using soil hydrologic and geophysical methods. Numerical analyses of variably saturated flow along a two-dimensional cross-section were carried out in attempts to describe the heterogeneous flow fields using the Richards equation-based HYDRUS-2D code. The unsaturated soil hydraulic properties were described using van Genuchten-Mualem type expressions. Information from both in situ and laboratory measurements was employed to obtain parameter estimates. The observed variability in discharge rate with time was reproduced best when an average water retention curve was used and the saturated water content was set equal to the porosity, whereas cumulative outflow was predicted best when all van Genuchten hydraulic parameters were fitted to the retention data. Using heterogeneously distributed hydraulic parameters (assuming a layered profile or a random distribution of the saturated hydraulic conductivity) improve neither predictions of the cumulative discharge rate nor the variability in the outflow rate when compared with the homogeneous case. Efforts to construct or numerically simulate heterogeneous flow experiments may, therefore, not always be justified when water flow in sandy substrates is studied. © 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.