Infiltration in arid environments: Spatial patterns between subsurface heterogeneity and water-energy balances

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Transient simulations of an arid mountain system were conducted using a fully integrated model of subsurface and overland water flow and the land surface energy balance (Par Flow). An hourly atmospheric time series was constructed and used to force a two-dimensional model containing detailed, stochastic descriptions of subsurface heterogeneity for alluvial and fractured units. Two cases were simulated for multiple years of simulation: a dry case based on a year with below-average precipitation, and a wet case with above-average precipitation. For each case, four realizations of hydraulic conductivity were simulated, along with a homogeneous domain and a domain with lower fracture density. Detailed analysis of water balances from each simulation indicated that recharge (change in subsurface water storage) over multiple years was significant even for the dry case. The fractured model of subsurface heterogeneity, along with episodic infiltration, combined to create localized regions of fully saturated (perched) water. This was shown to be even more substantial in the wet case. By contrast, homogeneous simulations did not exhibit this behavior and estimated lower recharge than the heterogeneous simulations. Geospatial statistics were subsequently used to evaluate correlations in land-energy fluxes. The land-energy fluxes exhibited clear spatial correlation and were influenced by both the shallow and deeper soil structures. This indicates that land-atmosphere fluxes may provide an integrated measure of subsurface heterogeneity. Finally, the vertical spatial structure of soil saturation in the fractured system was shown to exhibit multiscale behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)970-983
Number of pages14
JournalVadose Zone Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science


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