Articles | Volume 15, issue 7
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2077–2089, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2077–2089, 2011

Research article 04 Jul 2011

Research article | 04 Jul 2011

Modeling evaporation processes in a saline soil from saturation to oven dry conditions

M. Gran1,2, J. Carrera1, S. Olivella2, and M. W. Saaltink2 M. Gran et al.
  • 1GHS, Institute of Enviromental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA), CSIC, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2Dept. Geotechnical Engineering and Geosciences, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, UPC-BarcelonaTech, Barcelona, Spain

Abstract. Thermal, suction and osmotic gradients interact during evaporation from a salty soil. Vapor fluxes become the main water flow mechanism under very dry conditions. A coupled nonisothermal multiphase flow and reactive transport model was developed to study mass and energy transfer mechanisms during an evaporation experiment from a sand column. Very dry and hot conditions, including the formation of a salt crust, necessitate the modification of the retention curve to represent oven dry conditions. Experimental observations (volumetric water content, temperature and concentration profiles) were satisfactorily reproduced using mostly independently measured parameters, which suggests that the model can be used to assess the underlying processes. Results show that evaporation concentrates at a very narrow front and is controlled by heat flow, and limited by salinity and liquid and vapor fluxes. The front divides the soil into a dry and saline portion above and a moist and diluted portion below. Vapor diffusses not only upwards but also downwards from the evaporation front, as dictated by temperature gradients. Condensation of this downward flux causes dilution, so that salt concentration is minimum and lower than the initial one, just beneath the evaporation front. While this result is consistent with observations, it required adopting a vapor diffusion enhancement factor of 8.