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Shallow ground-water systems that communicate with the atmosphere are of great interest in the fields of hydrogeology, soil physics, and geotechnical engineering. Under certain circumstances, such multiphase systems can be approximated as saturated-unsaturated complexes in which the prime focus is the water. In general, saturated-unsaturated porous media are characterized by transient fluid motion in conjunction with deformation and desaturation phenomena. This paper identifies, to the extent of present knowledge, the observable physical parameters that characterize saturated-unsaturated systems, and places the parameters in mutual cause-effect relationships. The paper then examines the adequacy of the conceptual framework for studying field problems.

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