Natural Length Scales Shape Liquid Phase Continuity in Unsaturated Flows
Thursday, 17 December 2015: 15:20
3016 (Moscone West)
Unsaturated flows supporting soil evaporation and internal drainage play an important role in various hydrologic and climatic processes manifested at a wide range of scales. We study inherent natural length scales that govern these flow processes and constrain the spatial range of their representation by continuum models. These inherent length scales reflect interactions between intrinsic porous medium properties that affect liquid phase continuity, and the interplay among forces that drive and resist unsaturated flow. We have defined an intrinsic length scale for hydraulic continuity based on pore size distribution that controls soil evaporation dynamics (i.e., stage 1 to stage 2 transition). This simple metric may be used to delineate upper bounds for regional evaporative losses or the depth of soil-atmosphere interactions (in the absence of plants). A similar length scale governs the dynamics of internal redistribution towards attainment of field capacity, again through its effect on hydraulic continuity in the draining porous medium. The study provides a framework for guiding numerical and mathematical models for capillary flows across different scales considering the necessary conditions for coexistence of stationarity (REV), hydraulic continuity and intrinsic capillary gradients.