A new modelling approach to simulate preferential flow and transport in water repellent porous media: Parameter sensitivity, and effects on crop growth and solute leaching

G. Kramers, J.C. van Dam, C.J. Ritsema, F. Stagnitti, K. Oostindie, L.W. Dekker

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A modified version of the popular agrohydrological model SWAP has been used to evaluate modelling of soil water flow and crop growth at field situations in which water repellency causes preferential flow. The parameter sensitivity in such situations has been studied. Three options to model soil water flow within SWAP are described and compared: uniform flow, the classical mobile-immobile concept, and a recent concept accounting for the dynamics of finger development resulting from unstable infiltration. Data collected from a severely water-repellent affected soil located in Australia were used to compare and evaluate the usefulness of the modelling options for the agricultural management of such soils. The study shows that an assumption of uniform flow in a water-repellent soil profile leads to an underestimation of groundwater recharge and an overestimation of plant transpiration and crop production. The new concept of modelling taking finger dynamics into account provides greater flexibility and can more accurately model the observed effects of preferential flow compared with the classical mobile-immobile concept. The parameter analysis indicates that the most important factor defining the presence and extremity of preferential flow is the critical soil water content. Comparison of the modelling results with the Australian field data showed that without the use of a preferential flow module, the effects of the clay amendments to the soil were insufficiently reproduced in the dry matter production results. This means that the physical characteristics of the soil alone are not sufficient to explain the measured increase in production on clay amended soils. However, modelling with the module accounting for finger dynamics indicated that the preferential flow in water repellent soils that had not been treated with clay caused water stress for the crops, which would explain the decrease in production
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-382
JournalAustralian Journal of Soil Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005



  • sandy soils
  • numerical-simulation
  • unsaturated soils
  • evaporation
  • australia
  • movement
  • equation

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