Water Flow in Soils

Authored by: David E. Radcliffe , Jirka Šimůnek

Handbook of Soil Sciences Properties and Processes

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  November  2011

Print ISBN: 9781439803059
eBook ISBN: 9781439803066
Adobe ISBN:


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Water movement in soils is a key process that affects water quantity and quality in the environment. Since the transport of solutes is closely linked with the soil water flux, any quantitative analysis of solute transport must first evaluate water fluxes into and through soil. Water typically enters the soil surface in the form of precipitation or irrigation or by means of industrial and municipal spills (Figure 5.1). Some of the rainfall or irrigation water may be intercepted by the plant canopy. If the rainfall or irrigation intensity is larger than the infiltration capacity of the soil, water will be removed by surface runoff or will accumulate at the soil surface until it evaporates back to the atmosphere or infiltrates into the soil. Part of the water that infiltrates is returned back to the atmosphere by evaporation. Water that infiltrates into the soil profile may also be taken up by plant roots and eventually returned to the atmosphere by plant transpiration. The processes of evaporation and transpiration are often combined into the single process of evapotranspiration. Only water that is not returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration may percolate to the deeper soil zone and eventually reach the groundwater. If the water table is close enough to the soil surface, the process of capillary rise may move water from the water table through the capillary fringe toward the root zone and the soil surface. Figure 5.1 Water flow processes in soil. (From Šimůnek, J., M. šejna, H. Saito, M. Sakai, and M.Th. van Genuchten. 2008. The HYDRUS-1D software package for simulating the movement of water, heat, and multiple solutes in variably saturated media, Version 4.0, HYDRUS Software Series 3. Department of Environmental Sciences, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA.)

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