Soil Moisture Flow and Nitrate Movement Simulation through Deep and Heterogeneous Vadose Zone using Dual-porosity Approach

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Brijesh K Yadav1, Jahangeer Tomar1 and Thomas Harter2, (1)Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Roorkee, India, (2)University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States
We investigate nitrate movement from non-point sources in deep, heterogeneous vadose zones, using multi-dimensional variably saturated flow and transport simulations. We hypothesize that porous media heterogeneity causes saturation variability that leads to preferential flow systems such that a significant portion of the vadose zone does not significantly contribute to flow. We solve Richards’ equation and the advection-dispersion equation to simulate soil moisture and nitrate transport regimes in plot-scale experiments conducted in the San Joaquin Valley, California. We compare equilibrium against non-equilibrium (dual-porosity) approaches. In the equilibrium approach we consider each soil layer to have unique hydraulic properties as a whole, while in the dual-porosity approach we assume that large fractions of the porous flow domain are immobile. However we consider exchange of water and solute between mobile and immobile zone using the appropriate mass transfer terms. The results indicate that flow and transport in a nearly 16 m deep stratified vadose zone comprised of eight layers of unconsolidated alluvium experiences highly non-uniform, localized preferential flow and transport patterns leading to accelerated nitrate transfer. The equilibrium approach largely under-predicted the leaching of nitrate to groundwater while the dual-porosity approach showed higher rates of nitrate leaching, consistent with field observations. The dual-porosity approach slightly over-predicted nitrogen storage in the vadose zone, which may be the result of limited matrix flow or denitrification not accounted for in the model. Results of this study may be helpful to better predict fertilizer and pesticide retention times in deep vadose zone, prior to recharge into the groundwater flow system.

Keywords: Nitrate, Preferential flow, Heterogeneous vadose zone, Dual-porosity approach