Abstract

A model for preferential flow in macropores is based on the short-range spatial distribution of soil matrix infiltrability. It uses elementary areas at two different scales. One is the traditional representative elementary area (REA), which includes a sufficient heterogeneity to typify larger areas, as for measuring field-scale infiltrability. The other, called an elementary matrix area (EMA), is smaller, but large enough to represent the local infiltrability of soil matrix material, between macropores. When water is applied to the land surface, each EMA absorbs water up to the rate of its matrix infiltrability. Excess water flows into a macropore, becoming preferential flow. The land surface then can be represented by a mesoscale (EMA-scale) distribution of matrix infiltrabilities. Total preferential flow at a given depth is the sum of contributions from all EMAs. Applying the model, one case study with multi-year field measurements of both preferential and diffuse fluxes at a specific depth was used to obtain parameter values by inverse calculation. The results quantify the preferential–diffuse partition of flow from individual storms that differed in rainfall amount, intensity, antecedent soil water, and other factors. Another case study provided measured values of matrix infiltrability to estimate parameter values for comparison and illustrative predictions. These examples give a self-consistent picture from the combination of parameter values, directions of sensitivities, and magnitudes of differences caused by different variables. One major practical use of this model is to calculate the dependence of preferential flow on climate-related factors, such as varying soil wetness and rainfall intensity.

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