Articles | Volume 18, issue 10
Research article
22 Oct 2014
Research article |  | 22 Oct 2014

Development and testing of a large, transportable rainfall simulator for plot-scale runoff and parameter estimation

T. G. Wilson, C. Cortis, N. Montaldo, and J. D. Albertson

Abstract. There is increased interest in the interplay between vegetation conditions and overland flow generation. The literature is unclear on this relationship, and there is little quantitative guidance for modeling efforts. Therefore, experimental efforts are needed, and these call for a lightweight transportable plot-scale (>10 m2) rainfall simulator that can be deployed quickly and quickly redeployed over various vegetation cover conditions. Accordingly, a variable-intensity rainfall simulator and collection system was designed and tested in the laboratory and in the field. The system was tested with three configurations of common pressure washing nozzles producing rainfall intensities of 62, 43, and 32 mm h-1 with uniformity coefficients of 76, 65, and 62%, respectively, over a plot of 15.12 m2. Field tests were carried out on a grassy field with silt–loam soil in Orroli, Sardinia, in July and August 2010, and rainfall, soil moisture, and runoff data were collected. The two-term Philip infiltration model was used to find optimal values for the saturated hydraulic conductivity of the soil surface and bulk soil, soil water retention curve slope, and air entry suction head. Optimized hydraulic conductivity values were similar to both the measured final infiltration rate and literature values for saturated hydraulic conductivity. This inexpensive (less than USD 1000) rainfall simulator can therefore be used to identify field parameters needed for hydrologic modeling.