Comparison between field measurements and numerical simulation of steady-state solute transport in a heterogeneous soil profile
- 1Institute for Land and Water Management, KULeuven Vital Decosterstraat 102, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium
- 2Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCR Riverside, CA 92521-0412, USA
- *Corresponding author
Abstract: Field-scale solute dispersion is determined by water flow heterogeneity which results from spatial variability of soil hydraulic properties and soil moisture state. Measured variabilities of soil hydraulic properties are highly sensitive to the experimental method. Field-scale dispersion derived from leaching experiments in a macroporous loam soil was compared with field-scale dispersion obtained with numerical simulations in heterogeneous random fields. Four types of random fields of hydraulic properties having statistical properties derived from four different types of laboratory measurements were considered. Based on this comparison, the measurement method depicting heterogeneities of hydraulic properties most relevant to field-scale solute transport was identified. For unsaturated flow, the variability of the hydraulic conductivity characteristic measured on a small soil volume was the most relevant parameter. For saturated flow, simulated dispersion underestimated the measured dispersion and it was concluded that heterogeneity of macroscopic hydraulic properties could not represent solute flow heterogeneity under these flow conditions. Field-scale averaged solute concentrations depend both on the detection method and the averaging procedure. Flux-averaged concentrations (relevant to practical applications) differ from volume-averaged or resident concentrations (easy to measure), especially when water flow is more heterogeneous. Simulated flux and resident concentrations were subsequently used to test two simple one-dimensional transport models in predicting flux concentrations when they are calibrated on resident concentrations. In the first procedure, solute transport in a heterogeneous soil is represented by a 1-D convection dispersion process. The second procedure was based on the relation between flux and resident concentrations for a stochastic convective process. Better predictions of flux concentrations were obtained using the second procedure, especially when water flow and solute transport are very heterogeneous.