A field experiment was performed to study the effects of soil structure heterogeneity generated by farming practices (i.e., compaction by wheel traffic, plowing, surface tillage) on plot-scale water flow and solute transport. The experiment involved a 4 by 2 m2 field plot that was uniformly sprinkle irrigated with water and bromide for about 6 h. Independently measured soil hydraulic functions were used to simulate the experiment with a numerical flow and transport model (HYDRUS-2D) using a fully deterministic approach for describing soil heterogeneity. The numerical model reproduced observed flow and transport processes only after adjustments were made to the soil hydraulic functions. Adjustments were needed to account for increased flow and transport into and through the soil between the compacted zones below the wheel tracks, and to predict double concentration peaks caused by the umbrella (or shadow) effects of compacted soil clods. Global optimization of the soil hydraulic parameters produced a satisfactory description of the very heterogeneous flow patterns, with the resulting hydraulic parameters showing only limited correlation among each other. We demonstrate that double-peak concentration profiles can result from the presence of tillage-induced soil heterogeneities.

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