Numerical Modeling of Water Flow and Salt Transport in Bare Saline Soil Subjected to Transient Evaporation

Monday, 15 December 2014
Xiaolong Geng, Michel Boufadel and Firas S Saleh, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Edison, NJ, United States
It has been found that evaporation over bare soil plays an important role in subsurface solute transport processes. A numerical study, based on a density-dependent variably saturated groundwater flow model MARUN, was conducted to investigate subsurface flow and salt transport in bare saline aquifers subjected to transient evaporation. The bulk aerodynamic formulation was adopted to simulate transient evaporation rate at ground surface. Subsurface flow pattern, moisture distribution, and salt migration were quantified. Key factors likely affecting this process, including saturated hydraulic conductivity, capillary drive, air humidity, and surrounding water supply, were examined. The results showed that evaporation induced an upward flow pattern, which led to a high saline plume formed beneath the evaporation zone. In absence of surrounding water supply, as the humidity between the ground surface and air tended to equilibrium, evaporation-induced density gradient generated pore water circulations around the plume edge and caused the salt to migrate downwards with “finger” shapes. It was found that capillary properties and atmospheric condition had significant impacts on subsurface moisture distribution and salt migration in response to the evaporation. Larger capillary fringe and/or lower air humidity would allow evaporation to extract more water from the ground. It would induce a larger and denser saline plume formed beneath the evaporation zone. The results also suggested that the presence of the surrounding water supply (represented as a constant water table herein) could provide a steady evaporation rate at the ground surface; meanwhile, in response to the evaporation, a hydraulic gradient was formed from the water supply boundary, which induced an inclined upper saline plume with greater density far from the supply boundary.