MEASUREMENT OF PREFERENTIAL FLOW DURING INFILTRATION AND EVAPORATION IN POROUS MEDIA
Infiltration and evaporation are governing processes for water exchange between soil and atmosphere. In addition to atmospheric supply or demand, infiltration and evaporation rates are controlled by the material properties of the subsurface and the interplay between capillary, viscous and gravitational forces. This is commonly modeled with semi-empirical approaches using continuum models, such as the Richards equation for unsaturated flow. However, preferential flow phenomena often occur, limiting or even entirely suspending the applicability of continuum-based models. During infiltration, unstable fingers may form in homogeneous or heterogeneous porous media. On the other hand, the evaporation process may be driven by the hydraulic coupling of materials with different hydraulic functions found in heterogeneous systems. To analyze such preferential flow processes, water distribution was monitored in infiltration and evaporation lab experiments using neutron transmission techniques. Measurements were performed in 2D and 3D, using homogeneous and heterogeneous setups. The experimental findings demonstrate the fingering effect in infiltration and how it is influenced by the presence of fine inclusions in coarse background material. During evaporation processes, the hydraulic coupling effect is found to control the evaporation rate, limiting the modeling of water balances between soil and surface based on surface information alone.