Abstract

Flow and transport parameters of soils in numerical simulations need to be defined at the support scale of computational grid cells. Such support scale can substantially differ from the support scale in laboratory or field measurements of flow and transport parameters. The scale dependence of flow and transport parameters essentially precludes the direct use of measured or pedotransfer-estimated parameter values in numerical simulations. The hypothesis of this work was that a support-based scaling law can be introduced that can convert pedotransfer-estimated saturated hydraulic conductivity values into values to be used over grid cells for finite-element-based simulations of water flow and tracer transport in variably saturated soils. A 4-month-long experiment was conducted at the USDA–ARS experimental site where Cl as a tracer was applied with a pulse of irrigation water and its transport in groundwater and variably saturated shallow coarse-textured soils was monitored in two rows of wells on a daily basis. The HYDRUS-3D software was used to set and calibrate the Richards model for flow simulations and the convective–dispersive equation for transport simulations. Saturated hydraulic conductivity values were estimated with class pedotransfer functions derived from the USDA database containing results of about 1000 measurements in soils of different textures and bulk densities. A power law scaling for the saturated hydraulic conductivity was suggested based on literature data. When only two parameters of the scaling law rather than nine values of hydraulic conductivity from nine soil materials were calibrated, using the scaled saturated hydraulic conductivity values resulted in an accuracy of simulations that was similar to the accuracy of the calibrated model results. Upscaling of pedotransfer-estimated saturated hydraulic conductivities can provide reasonable estimates for numerical flow and transport modeling in variably saturated soils.

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