Hydraulic Redistribution: A Modeling Perspective

Monday, 15 December 2014
Edoardo Daly1,2, Parikshit Verma2,3 and Steven P Loheide III4, (1)Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, (2)National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, (3)Monash University, Civil Engineering, Melbourne, Australia, (4)Univ of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, WI, United States
Roots play a key role in the soil water balance. They extract and transport water for transpiration, which usually represents the most important soil water loss in vegetated areas, and can redistribute soil water, thereby increasing transpiration rates and enhancing root nutrient uptake.

We present here a two-dimensional model capable of describing two key aspects of root water uptake: root water compensation and hydraulic redistribution. Root water compensation is the ability of root systems to respond to the reduction of water uptake from areas of the soil with low soil water potential by increasing the water uptake from the roots in soil parts with higher water potential. Hydraulic redistribution is a passive transfer of water through the root system from areas of the soil with greater water potential to areas with lower water potential. Both mechanisms are driven by gradients of water potential in the soil and the roots.

The inclusion of root water compensation and hydraulic redistribution in models can be achieved by describing root water uptake as a function of the difference in water potential between soil and root xylem. We use a model comprising the Richards equation for the water flow in variably saturated soils and the Darcy’s equation for the water flow in the xylem. The two equations are coupled via a sink term, which is assumed to be proportional to the difference between soil and xylem water potentials.

The model is applied in two case studies to describe vertical and horizontal hydraulic redistribution and the interaction between vegetation with different root depths. In the case of horizontal redistribution, the model is used to reproduce the fluxes of water across the root system of a tree subjected to uneven irrigation. This example can be extended to situations when only part of the root system has access to water, such as vegetation near creeks, trees at the edge of forests, and street trees in urban areas. The second case is inspired by recent agro-ecosystems experiments that combined different vegetation species to increase crop yield. The presence of deep rooted plants (nursing species) near shallow rooted crops (nursed species) enhanced crop growth thanks to vertical and horizontal hydraulic redistribution. The model is able to reproduce the patterns of water redistribution observed in this scenario.